The hidden cost of delaying those ‘difficult conversations’

Talk may be cheap, but it seems silence is expensive. You won’t believe how much a new survey says it costs when employees put off having crucial conversations about workplace issues.

VitalSmarts, a Utah-based consulting firm specializing in corporate training and organizational performance, conducted an on-line poll asking employees how they dealt with the prospect of having uncomfortable conversations about conflicts at work.
Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no problem dealing with the problem immediately. The rest? They:

  • ‘ruminated’ about the issue (61%)
  • complained to co-workers about it (41%)
  • felt angry (34%)
  • did extra or unnecessary work to avoid dealing with the issue (32%)
  • avoided the person involved (29%)
  • ‘talked around’ the topic (24%)
  • felt sorry for themselves (20%), and
  • dropped hints to the individual involved (20%).

A surprising price tag
OK. No real big surprises there. But check this out:
When asked to estimate the cost of doing busywork and wasting time avoiding the conversation:

  • 35% said the delay cost their employer between $100 and $1,000
  • 19% put the cost at between $1,000 and $5,000, and
  • 8% set the price at between $5,000 and $10,000.

And those prices are for each conversation avoided. Add up the number of potential conflicts in a company over the period of a year, and an employer could be looking at a serious piece of change.
The take-away: Companies need to foster an atmosphere in which dealing with workplace conflict is a job requirement — a communications policy that stresses cooperation and positive problem solving. And, of course, HR plays a crucial role in administering that policy.
Just how can employees better deal with these crucial conversations? VitalSmarts founder Joseph Grenny suggests the following:

  • Confront the right problem. The biggest mistake people make is to confront the most painful or immediate issue and not the one that gets them the results they really need. Before speaking up, the employee should stop and ask, “What do I really want here? What problem do I want to resolve?”
  • Rein-in emotions. Employees should manage their emotions by examining, questioning and rewriting their story in their minds before beginning the conversation.
  • Master the first 30 seconds. Most people do everything wrong in the first “hazardous half-minute”—like diving into the content and attacking the other person. Instead, employees should show they care about the other person and his or her interests. That’ll  disarm defensiveness and open up dialogue.