Why We Avoid Difficult Conversations

“I don’t want to hide from the things that I think are troubling us.”

Kerry Washington

In my recent quest for transparency, I’ve come to the realization that many of us are choosing not to speak our truths and engage in difficult conversations. As a result, we find ourselves wallowing in shame from consistently keeping secrets, and then when we think we are strong enough to speak up the shame of how long it took you speak out prevents you from being honest and transparent with the people you love the most.

Considering that, why do we choose to avoid the difficult conversations? Do we think that people will react negatively or stop liking us? Do we feel that if we bring the issue up, it will end our relationships?

According to Deborah Rowland, the Human Resources thought leader behind companies like Shell and Gucci Group, it has “more to do with our own unconscious anxiety about not being able to handle the conversation well.” In reality, we are worried about our own mental capacity to express exactly what we are feeling and react in a way that will not damage the relationship we most likely seek to preserve by addressing and solving common issues. We aren’t worried about how they will feel when we bring up the conversation, we are worried about how their emotional response will make us feel.

Pam Bauer, contributor to the Huffington Post puts it perfectly, “[We] want to take action without experiencing the consequences of the action.” The action we want? The release of pent-up emotions that happen when we attempt to avoid the real issues in our relationships.

Ironically, as a result, we impose some unintentional consequences on ourselves by not speaking up.

The largest of those consequences come with the damage of holding things in and building resentment over time against your friend, family member, or significant other. You subconsciously seek ways to tear down the person through backhanded compliments, insults delivered in a joking way, and occasionally by flying off the handle at a minor issue.

Instead of preserving the relationship you end up damaging it even further if the conversation comes up at the wrong time. Not to mention the conversation becomes recurring because the two of you have never sat down to address what the root of the issue is. Over time the strain of microaggressions cause the relationship to come to an end at best, or extremely unhealthy and toxic at worst.

No matter what it takes, as a community we have got to start seeing difficult, candid conversations as the relationship building tools they are. The better we communicate during times of conflict, the stronger our relationships become. Not only that, it is when our communication skills are put to the test and strengthened. Take the leap and have the difficult conversation today. Next week we'll talk about a few ways to have difficult conversations and what to expect.

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