How much time do you waste avoiding difficult conversations? Maybe it’s talking to a co-worker who’s not pulling his weight. Maybe it’s talking to your boss about having her assign you work that’s more aligned with the organization’s mission. Or maybe it’s figuring out who you need to talk to about someone’s behavior that’s making you feel uncomfortable and affecting your job. Whatever the case, every time you avoid having one of those difficult but important conversations, it not only wastes time; it actually costs money. (This article from points out that the cost of avoiding one of those conversations is around $7,500!)


But what to do? Few of us like conflict. In fact, most of us avoid it like the plague. Well, what if you framed the issue—for yourself and for the person you need to speak to—as something other than conflict? What if you framed it instead as an opportunity to talk about something that will improve work in some way?


Certain conversations are off-limits at work—and for good reason. Why shouldn’t we talk about politics, religion, and sexuality at work? Because these topics generally hit very close to the core of our identity. And we just can’t (and maybe even shouldn’t) talk about them in a detached, dispassionate way. If you disagree with me on topics like these, you’re not just rejecting what I think or believe; you’re rejecting me!


So, to the extent you’re able, frame your difficult conversation at work in terms of how the issue you’re bringing to the discussion table affects work—maybe it’s productivity, efficiency, customer satisfaction, or future business. Appeal to your counterpart’s sense of professional pride or whatever part of him makes him want the organization to do better. Start by asking him to have a conversation about something you observed that made you think that we could do our work with less stress, or serve our customers better, or become a team that fires on all cylinders. Think about how much more receptive you’d be if someone approached you with this type of a positive framing than if they said, “I have a serious problem with you!”


The next time you’re thinking of avoiding a difficult conversation, think of how you can reframe it to appeal to your counterpart’s sense of wanting to do great work.



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want.