“When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short-term discomfort for long-term dysfunction,” Peter Bromberg. We teach ourselves that it’s better to save the other person’s feelings or to avoid changing something—that it’s easier to go along with something that hurts us rather than doing the work to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. This is a skill I’m still learning. When I spoke of being called in a certain direction and going with it even if it makes you uncomfortable, I mentioned that I thought my calling was to correct everyone. So while I was bold enough to tell people they were wrong, I was never bold enough to tell people they were wrong when they wronged me. I was still the girl doing their homework in hopes they would befriend me while they ignored me until they needed help again.
We learn to have or avoid difficult conversations when we are very young. A toddler telling the adult they don’t want to eat a certain food or that they do want a certain toy, to wear certain clothes is a beautiful example. Children have no fear about letting you know how they really feel. They feel something and express it. The adults in our lives can either support those decisions or they reinforce the idea that we just need to listen. Depending on what you are taught, you can either learn to believe in your own decisions or you learn to mistrust your own instincts. I was taught the latter in a very conflicted way. I learned it was important to be right but to not hurt people’s feelings.
As an adult, and as a leader at work, I see where I fail at the difficult conversations. I wanted people to understand what I expected of them without laying out full expectations—which I know is completely unrealistic. But I see now how that sets the precedent for the behavior to continue and to constantly set myself up for frustration when my unspoken expectations aren’t met. Plus, it isn’t always about my expectations, period. Difficult conversations happen around us all the time and we have the opportunity to learn from them as we experience them. They help us set boundaries, and yes, expectations, but they help us arrive at a mutual agreement.
The ramification of not having difficult conversations are absolutely dysfunctional. Everything from creating a one-sided relationship, to being taken advantage of, to saying yes to things we don’t want to do—and saying no to opportunities meant for us, we learn to shy away from life. It’s key to understand that not everyone is meant to like us. Our job isn’t to be liked, it is to fulfill our purpose and if we spend our time dysfunctionally, we won’t fulfill our purpose. So challenge yourselves. If the food is bad send it back. If someone crosses a boundary, tell them. If you care for someone, tell them. It’s necessary to build an honest relationship based on who you are rather than a false relationship on who they think you are.