A young entrepreneur owns and runs a thriving company. His job involves taking enormous financial risks, which he tackles with confidence and even excitement.
Yet it is the prospect of having a difficult conversation with a colleague that keeps him awake at night. He has to tell one of his partners that their Amsterdam office is going to have to close, leaving her without a role in the business.
However rational the decision, he is terrified of having to face her sadness and anger as well as his own guilty feelings. He rehearses the conversation in his head and the imagined scenario makes him panic. As a result, he keeps putting it off.
Many executives have risen to their positions because of their work performance, and not for their capacity to conduct such conversations that are charged with feelings, or to deal with the possible fallout. Giving someone negative feedback, warning a staff member who is not pulling his or her weight, or having to make an employee redundant are all circumstances of high emotion that can leave managers feeling overwhelmed.
Any number of uncomfortable feelings may arise: guilt, frustration, anger, embarrassment and fear. It is not only their own feelings they have to contend with, but also the other person’s reactions – shock, disappointment or seething resentment – all directed at them.
Many managers lack confidence they can cope with such potential conflict or strong emotions, and instead opt to put off or avoid the issue until it grows out of control. An alternative is to choose to hand it over to the human resources department or even to a business coach.