We generally know what to say in those difficult conversations with volunteers or staff. So what’s holding us back?

You might be want to hear what’s up with my latest Leadership Circle for volunteer managers.

This one is a bit larger than circles I’ve led in the past – it’s a 30-person cohort, which means the energy is high and the conversation is animated.

Each month we discuss a different topic related to volunteer management – things like setting expectations or managing change.

It was last month’s topic, though, that generated the liveliest discussion.

What does it take to move out of your comfort zone?

We all know that growing professionally requires us to take actions we’d prefer not to do – dismiss a volunteer, start a project we’ve been avoiding, meditate a conflict between staff and/or volunteers.

When these situations make us uncomfortable, it’s so tempting to avoid them.

And it’s so easy to avoid them! Most of the time there no one’s looking over our shoulder. Even if our supervisors raise the bar for performance, they may not hold us accountable on a daily basis. We can stay busy doing the parts of our job that we like. We tell ourselves that we’ll address the problems another day.

Back to the Leadership Circle. Before our session, I asked the volunteer managers to each set a goal and do one thing that makes them uncomfortable. They sent me their goals, and I put them into categories.

Here’s what the break down looked like:

It’s probably no surprise that difficult conversations are head and shoulders the #1 thing that makes us uncomfortable. We choose to work with volunteers because we’re people persons. We’re nice. We’re good at encouraging and complimenting. It’s hard to talk about conflicts.

I’m not going to tell you how to have a difficult conversation. Meridian Swift shares terrific advice about how to lead those discussions. There are also some great books out there – Crucial Conversations is a favorite because it focuses on emotional safety and relationship-building.

Instead, I want you to reflect on the question I asked the Leadership Circle:

What does it take to move out of your comfort zone?

I ask this again because, no matter how much training you receive in the art of difficult conversations, you will not make a move until you figure out how to get comfortable with the discomfort of the situation.

It’s the discomfort that keeps us in avoidance mode, postponing the conversation.

There are all kinds of ways to manage discomfort – it really doesn’t matter which ones you choose, as long as you put some thought into the question and try some techniques.

Some of my personal favorites include:

  • Meditation and breathing techniques
  • Reframing limiting beliefs
  • Building in accountability: set yourself a deadline, tell someone what you’re going to do, and then do it

Or, you might want to try my favorite technique, which is to imagine how you’re going to feel after the conversation and take action because you want to experience that sense of pride and accomplishment.

Isn’t that the real motivator? Our own internal desire to grow is what keeps us moving forward.

Right now today, it there is something in your work that sends you into discomfort, make the decision to go for it. Find the supports you need, set a goal to take action, and do it. Your future self will thank you.


Want to focus more on conversations? My Six Principles of Buy-In will help you with your influencing skills.  Email me to receive a handout about the principles and a next steps worksheet – and I’ll add you to the Twenty Hats mailing list.