Courageous Conversations – Why Aren’t We Saying What We Need Or Want?


Sonia McDonald


3 min read

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Communication is the key to resolving conflicts, concerns, or even just to clarify things. It’s the foundation that fosters great relationships, whether it is an intimate relationship with the love of your life, or a stranger on the train.

If you are not adept at communication, you’ve got a big challenge.

Conversation is what connects us. And in the workplace, it is what binds a team, and moves it towards the best outcome for all involved, in the most productive way possible.


The sounds of silence

So why is it we’re not saying what it is we need or want?

There could be a number of reasons why we don’t always speak up, or ask for help or support. Since young, we have been determined to be independent, and many of us don’t like to rely on others for things we ‘should’ be able to do ourselves.

An element of this is that we don’t want to appear ignorant, or stupid. We have our reputations to maintain, and believe that if we admit we don’t know or can’t do something, then we’ll be perceived differently. We feel we’re acknowledging we have flaws and faults and exposing them leads us to feeling vulnerable.

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” – Coco Chanel

The reverse is also true; that we often don’t speak up and address concerns we have in others because we don’t want to upset them or hurt their feelings. We worry they’ll feel silly, or that we think less of them.

The result is we skirt around some conversations and leave a lot unsaid. More often than not, it is what’s not communicated that causes the greatest confusion and biggest hurdles. These are the things that explode in your face when you least expect it – and that’s not fun.


Converse with courage

Having courageous conversations is essential, for the outcome of the project as well as for the individuals in the team. There are two overarching conversations here:

  • the one where you ask for what you need.
  • the one where you say what needs to be said.

In any project with a team, there are people who are experts or specialists in certain areas. This is why you have a team; to ensure that all elements of the project are tended to by someone who knows what they’re doing.

It’s okay that you don’t know everything, or you’re unfamiliar with the way something works. If you need a simpler explanation, or someone to show you how it works, then the conversation is not only worthwhile, it’s vital.

This might interest you: How ‘I Don’t Know’ Helps You Solve Your Toughest Problems


‘I’m only human’

It also shows your team that you’re human, and is another way of acknowledging team members. Remember, vulnerability is a leadership strength!

Related post: The Strategic Power Of Vulnerability

Where an individual is struggling, complaining, or appearing negative or resentful, this is where the conversations really need to happen. These ones are often more difficult, and open up the doors for some significant conflict.

Going into these conversations requires the ability to set aside any emotion, and judgment. There are always two sides to a story, and everyone will have their own perspective based on an infinite number of factors. Often, it is a case of miscommunication, or misinterpretation, being unclear about roles and responsibilities, or feeling unappreciated.

It can be cleared up with an unbiased, emotion-free discussion that focuses on facts, and sets about creating clarity.

This is important when dealing with a person who’s struggling, or continually fails to understand work or meet deadlines. This conversation must happen, because in many cases, they simply don’t want to ask for help. They don’t want to appear ignorant or stupid, and if no one says anything to them, they think they’re getting away with it.

Read also: Why Big Conversations Matter And How To Lead Them


Bringing it together

The hardest conversation is when you have to let them go for non-performance, and they aren’t even aware they’ve been failing.

Be courageous, speak up, and minimise the inevitable hurdles that managing a project and leading a team will throw in your path. You can do it.


To be in touch with Sonia, email us at For more Thought Of The Week articles, click here.

Article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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