How comfortable are you to have an uncomfortable discussion?

By Somali K Chakrabarti

Politics, pay and religion make interesting topics for starting a discussion; but such discussions, if not steered properly, can be polarizing and may become awkward after some time.

However, that is not what this post is about.

Uncomfortable DiscussionThis post is specifically about discussions that you might have hesitated to have when you were particularly displeased with some annoying behavior of your colleague, but delayed or avoided telling them as you were not quite sure how they would react to it.

Or perhaps you were caught off guard, when someone told you that you have not been performing up to the mark for a while, so you became defensive downright and started offering a barrage of explanations to justify your actions.

Uncomfortable discussion on issues remains an area that many of us dread to tread, particular when seeking discussion with the person who we believe is causing the issue.

Giving honest feedback falls under the purview of uncomfortable discussions. We often hesitate to give a candid feedback due to fear of being misunderstood or spoiling our equation with the person, particularly if the relationship is an important or a fragile one.

Nonetheless, as one grows in life and profession, one has to get comfortable about having uncomfortable discussions and put across their views in the best possible manner.

Here are some ways to go about it.


  1. Have the discussion in private

A sensitive discussion (read criticism) is best done in private and in person. A discussion is more likely to be of some use when it is carried out shortly after the event for which the feedback is to be given, without elapsing a lot of time.


  1. Retain your calm during the discussion

If you consider the discussion as an opportunity to help your peer or colleague to improve, and not look upon it as a chance to vent out your frustrations, you will refrain from being sarcastic or offensive. Keeping your calm and making it a positive experience instead of an emotionally charged process enhances the effectiveness of the discussion.


  1. Be direct and forthright

Being neutral and objective in your discussion helps you to work towards an outcome. Not all people will be equally inclined to receive your feedback.  While some people may take it as an opportunity to improve, there will be many others who are unable to handle any constructive criticism.  So you need to approach the discussion cautiously, keep it precise and be careful not to pass snide personal remarks or attribute an action (or the lack of it) to the person’s intention.

At the same time, you would need to avoid sugar coating.  Saying something like “I like your dressing sense, the way you mix up with the people, your jovial nature and so forth, oh but you need to be more punctual with the delivery timeline” may marginalize the effect of feedback. It can confuse the recipient.  A person, who is happy with the praise you have just showered, might underplay the significance of your actual feedback.  Some people might even perceive that you are manipulating them.

Conversely, if you happen to be at the receiving end, do not immediately start defending your position as soon as you hear something that does not exactly please you. You don’t have to be submissive but listening objectively before putting forth your viewpoint may give you an additional perspective.

An honest unbiased feedback, however upsetting it might initially be, often works in the best interest of the person to whom the feedback is given. Remember the story of the emperor who wore nothing, but was made to believe by his coterie that he was wearing the most magnificent dress, till a child pointed out that he had no clothes on.


  1. Explain the impact of demonstrated behavior on the person’s performance

If you are troubled by a particular behavior or habit of a person, explain how the demonstrated behavior will impact the person’s performance at present and in future.

For instance if a member of your team does not share required information with others,  then explain the person how this behavior impedes team performance and leads to inefficiencies, which  in turn may hinder the person’s performance and progress in the long run.


  1. Give practical suggestion for improvement

Show the gaps and the specific areas where there is scope for improvement. Give practical suggestions that may help the person to work better. Cover not more that 1-2 improvement areas in a single discussion.


Keeping in mind these points should help you to reduce the discomfort associated with having an uncomfortable discussion.

Yet, there could be occasions when you are better off avoiding uncomfortable discussions. What such occasions can you think of?



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One thought on “How comfortable are you to have an uncomfortable discussion?

  1. Bhudeb Chakrabarti 12 December 2014 Kolkata
    An excellent write up . The organisational leaders will find your prescription useful for better inter-personal relations .


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