Talk It Through (Featured On The Straits Times – 3 Nov 2016)


TALK IT THROUGH – How to broach a difficult conversation at work?

Have there been times at work and in your life when you felt strongly about something but did not speak up? There are various psychological reasons why people choose not to speak up even when they know they should. Here are some reasons why people refrain from speaking up and ways to do so courageously.

  1. Not Wanting To Be The Problem

The greatest motivation and ironically the same factor that deters us from speaking up is the need to belong to a social group. Psychologists called this the social identity. We all have a need to belong to a group, tribe or clan.

Most of us tend to think that by speaking up against the norm or going against the wave in a group is sending out a signal that you don’t belong to the group, which is why we often suppress our views even though we may have valuable insights.

The power of group thinking deters us from making break-through suggestions because we do not want to be labelled a trouble-maker.

What you should say to the other party:

“I might not be able to develop a strong relationship with you in the conversation, but I can earn your respect, which creates trust. When there is trust, everyone relaxes.”

  1. Protecting Ourselves.

Some may say that the reason why they are not speaking up is because they want to protect the relationship, but the real reason is they are protecting only themselves. We have a tendency for self-serving bias. When things go well, we love to have a part in it, but when things go south, we prefer not to have anything to do with it.

When carrying out a tricky conversation, we face the same issue. As we want to look good to the other party, we prefer not to challenge the status quo. We prefer not to be the person where people point at when things go awry. This fear overrides our desire to do what is right and makes us leave things to chance.

What you should say to the other party:

 “It is not about being safe; it is about exploring and seeking opportunity which is possible only through a frank conversation.”

  1. We need to maintain a relationship

One of the top reason why people do not initiate a difficult conversation is that they do not want to create a dent in the relationship. They are afraid that if they speak up in front of you, they might not be able to work with you in the future as easily.

Most people have the misconception that if they speak up, they are targeting the person, when it should be objective, not personal. But many conversations fall flat because both parties are not able to hold the conversation together professionally, turning emotional during the process.

To have a frank conversation with someone you know very well is harder than having it with someone you are unfamiliar with because of the depth of the relationship.

What you should say to the other party:

 “As you are my best comrade, I want you to succeed by telling you this because your success counts as mine too.”