Peer-to-peer conversations – why are they so difficult?

Plenty of us have experienced the difficult conversations that arise between leaders and their team members and there are plenty of guides that outline how you should approach these situations. Unfortunately, many of us like to avoid thinking about what it’s like when you need to raise a difficult conversation with a peer.

Why is it so daunting?

Many people would rather have a conversation with their manager than have to speak to their peer who is on completely equal-footing with them. This is the first reason it can be so difficult to approach such a situation: there is no hierarchy between you.

If you are on the receiving end of the feedback, you may not take the other person seriously or feel offended by their remarks, because they have no real authority over you. On the other hand, if you are the one who initiates the conversation, you may go in with too much hesitation rather than confidence, especially if you’re insecure about your lack of authority or worried about creating tension that you’re not confident to manage.

Not only this, but it is likely that you have a fair amount of history with your colleague – you may have worked together for a long time and have a personal relationship as well as a professional one. If you have an issue you need to raise, you face the choice of jeopardising the relationship or letting the issue simmer into the future – neither option seems appealing, so it’s understandable that so many people avoid the confrontation.

What are the consequences?

Besides jeopardising professional and personal relationships, the biggest negative consequence, if the conversation takes a turn for the worst, is that the conflict will go unresolved, leaving tension in the air.

Since you are peers, it’s likely that you work together frequently, if not constantly. Leaving the conflict unresolved will mean that the tension will seep into the way that you interact and the way that you work, creating substandard work and unhappy team members.

So how do we make sure it goes successfully?

Leaders have a huge role to play, even when they are not the ones having the difficult conversation. Fostering a team environment where it’s natural to bring up issues kindly and honestly will set up your team to be able to raise issues more freely without feeling intimidated or scared.

Creating an environment where listening skills are also highly valued is extremely important. Remove your distractions, think deeply about your body language and focus on what the other person is saying and take it on board. If you implement your listening skills – no matter which side of the conversation you are on – the situation is far more likely to go smoothly.

Remember the age old adage of putting yourself in their shoes – taking a moment to see the situation from the other person’s eyes can really help in understanding the situation and navigating your way to a satisfying result for everyone.

If you’re ready to start creating a supportive environment where team members can talk to each other openly, contact People Make The Difference. We can help you with our training workshops, one-on-one coaching and Coach On Call services. To find out more, call us on 0412 333 415 or visit