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In the modern workplace, conversations aren’t just about resource allocations, deadlines, or the next big project. They often veer into more complex, emotional topics; a territory that many of us find challenging to navigate. This was the focal point of a recent HR Meetup led by Amanda Cookson of Northern Value Creators, which shed light on the crucial yet often avoided discussions at work.

The Challenges of Emotional Conversations at Work

The Meet-up identified several topics that we all agreed were difficult to broach:

  • Performance feedback
  • Saying No and declining requests, like promotions or resources
  • Interpersonal issues, such as body odour or the implications of workplace relationships
  • Addressing bullying and harassment
  • Discussing breaches of company policy

These topics were seen as challenging because of our 3 main fears. The fear of triggering an emotional response: whether it’s tears, anger, or something in between. The potential for our own emotional triggers to compromise our ability to communicate effectively. The potential cost of making things worse

The Cost of Silence

We all agreed that avoiding these tough conversations can exacerbate the problem, leading to:

  • Decreased productivity and strained relationships
  • Escalation of minor issues into significant conflicts
  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding, fueling further conflict
  • Legal complications and damage to the company’s reputation
  • Hindered personal and organisational growth
  • Increased stress and health issues among employees
  • Development of a toxic work culture

Why We Shy Away from These Conversations

During the discussion a few key themes emerged: 

  • A work culture that doesn’t support open feelings based conversations
  • Fear of damaging already delicate relationships
  • The daunting prospect of making situations worse
  • Difficulty in finding the appropriate time and setting for such discussions
  • Uncertainty over who should initiate these conversations
  • Past attempts that were met with resistance or misunderstanding
  • Not knowing where to start or what to say for the best

The Unseen Benefits

Engaging in emotional conversations at work, while daunting, carries many benefits. It allows for the expression and release of pent-up emotions, leading to clearer thinking and stronger trust bonds among team members. Contrary to suppressing emotions, which is linked to health issues and decreased likability, expressing emotions can lighten the mental load of holding everything in and unlock that mental capacity for better thinking. We all agreed, these conversations enhance self-awareness and contribute to the development of high-performing teams.

Cultivating a Supportive Culture

The discussion underscored the importance of a supportive work culture that encourages open and honest communication. Regular check-ins and a commitment to understanding and addressing emotional needs are vital. Reflecting on how we facilitate and engage in emotional conversations is crucial for fostering a healthy, productive work environment.

Reflections for Leaders and HR Professionals

  • Assess your approach to check-ins: Are you creating space for emotional conversations?
  • Active listening: How well do you listen and respond to emotional cues from your team?
  • Resource allocation: What investments are you making to equip your team with the skills for effective emotional communication?

While emotional conversations at work can be challenging, they are indispensable for building trust, enhancing performance, and fostering a positive work culture. As leaders, HR professionals, or team members, embracing these discussions with empathy, patience, and openness can transform workplace dynamics, driving growth and wellbeing for everyone involved.

If you would like to learn more about tackling toxic behaviour at work, Amanda is running a workshop on Thursday 25th April.

Register here.

If you would like a free resources on how to have great conversations please join Amanda’s newsletter The Juice and if you would like updates on HR & Employment Law join Bhayani HR & Employment Law’s newsletter here

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