Living Leadership

Living Leadership

What isn't being said

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Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

Disclaimer: This is not scientific. The only basis for this theory is what I have learned during my 15-plus years in this field. I'm not the top expert here — I'm guilty.

I do not always practice what I preach, and I don't have all the solutions. I can, however, tell you I believe this notion to be true based on the hundreds of leadership conversations I've had, or haven't had.

I just asked a group of leaders last week what is the most difficult part of practicing leadership. Without hesitation they all answered in their own way: having difficult conversations. When we dove a little deeper, it wasn't so much the conversation itself but the fear of the anticipated reaction.

So here it is, instead of facing a conversation that needs to happen, we avoid. We tell ourselves a dramatic story of how the other person is going to react and we decide it's better to say nothing.

Is it? Does avoiding a difficult conversation really help anything? It simply prolongs a conversation that eventually will have to happen. More emotion gets brought it, higher anticipation and probably more drama. When we address issues, particularly performance issues, sooner rather than later, everyone's life would be easier.

But our life isn't easier. In fact, this is tough work that takes courage. Whether it's a peer or someone you supervise, deciding to have the direct conversation is tough, but it needs to be done!

It's funny. During this time when many focus on instant gratification, we still avoid conversations that may make the other person feel uncomfortable. I'm not talking about giving feedback to be hurtful or mean. I'm talking about the feedback we all need. The feedback given with the goal in mind to help the other person do better, and be better.

Yet, it's easier to avoid. It's easier to make excuses for why you aren't telling the other person how you feel. There are meetings after meetings where things are left unsaid. Why? I've coached many times, “Trust before truth,” which I firmly believe in. But this digs even deeper. There are some we could say, without a doubt, whom we trust, and yet we still hold back. We still let things build too long.

Here is my all-time favorite excuse for not facing a difficult conversation and it's an excuse I happen to fall back on myself: Why bother? It won't do any good anyway. We convince ourselves the other person is incapable of change or even understanding. We sell others short to make ourselves feel justified.

My advice: That conversation (and you know which one it is) that you have been avoiding … have it! Stop anticipating the reaction and ask to schedule a time to meet. Then go do it. Follow through. Acknowledge it's difficult for you but let that person know you felt it was necessary and then talk through the issues.

Avoidance isn't a solution. It's simply a long pause before you get to what really needs to be said.

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality under her in 2014, Thorson is a coach's daughter at heart. She is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. Now a licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year. 


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