Difficult conversations: Sadness = Awkwardness (John’s story)

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Sadness is a common reaction to difficult conversations. Sadness can look like disappointment, hurt, despair.

How one reacts in the face of sadness varies. Common reactions include:

In a shared space, few people are given the time and permission to experience sadness for as long as they need.  In each of the above stories, the goal is always the same. LET THEM FEEL THE SADNESS.

The outcome is to turn the negative feedback conversation into "that moment where my manager really championed me through something incredibly difficult".

What you do or say needs to be tailored to your reaction in the face of sadness. Read each story variation and give it a try.


Let's unpack John's reaction of awkwardness. John's fight/flight stress response has been triggered. Because John is a professional, he can't really flee without looking crazy. It's more social acceptable to pretend to fix and then end the meeting as fast as possible.

When John rushes to fix, it interrupts Bill's sadness. It's an unspoken message to get over it and move on. John assumes that Bill will reflect and own this feedback privately. This is hopeful thinking because, again, few of us are gifted with a support system that lets us process sadness at the pace we need.

Rushing to fix is an avoidance tactic - what John needs to do is own his awkwardness. Owning your awkwardness means letting it run through you before you stamp it out.

Instead of making a joke, stay quiet. Instead of offering solutions, validate what you are witnessing in the other. These are collaborative moves with the unspoken message, "I'm here. I see you. I support you".


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