Uncomfortable Conversation


Due to about a four-year stint in the Air Force from 1990-1993, I never got a chance to watch all of Seinfeld in its hay day. Now thanks to my Youtube TV with unlimited DVR (yes, I’m a cord cutter woot-woot), I’m able to binge on all the shows that people reference and I have no idea to what they’re referring.

One of the more memorable shows is The Lip Reader episode with George and his girlfriend Gwen.  For those who’ve never been there before or seen this episode, Gwen wants to end their relationship via the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line. The truth is when someone says, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’, they really mean ‘it’s you, but for reasons both good and bad I don’t want to tell you it’s you’. I recently had a business relationship that had run its course and this was definitely an ‘it’s not you, it’s me’/uncomfortable conversation.


How you get to these moments

As a leadership coach, executive coach or athletic coach for that matter, my primary responsibility is improving performance. Most of the time, changing behavior means recognizing the difference between the behavior that will lead to the desired results and the current behaviors that are preventing the desired results. This disconnect is caused by some degree of delusion. Yes, we are all delusional to a degree. But when this delusion is preventing success, it’s a prime indicator of a need to change. When a relationship gets to a point where the client no longer believes there is a need to change, then it leads to an “it’s not you, it’s me” moment.

When I started out business coaching, I would accept any breathing client. Some, I knew would never actually pay me, but the experience was necessary to develop and prove my worth. In hindsight, I’ve learned that the difficult clients make you a better coach and the easy clients keep you sane. The unfortunate reality is that you need both. All difficult clients will make you regret coming into work every day, but all easy clients make your reasoning skills atrophy. The problem solver in me will get bored if I have all easy clients. (I know someone reading this is saying, “Yes, that’s it, Darren. I make your life hard so you don’t get bored. It’s all about you Darren. It’s all about you!”) After a while though (aka cash flow improvement), I have been able to be more selective about who we take on or retain based on mutually agreed upon values.  


My “uncomfortable” conversation

One of my clients, that I’ve had for a long time was no longer a good fit. They actually hadn’t been a good fit for a few years, but I wasn’t able to let them go because my wife wouldn’t let me. Her response was always, “They need you.” Because this was the uncomfortable decision, I knew it was the correct decision. Therefore, I consistently supported them as though they were my best client, patiently waiting for the day when my wife would release me from my servitude.  Lo and behold, I got the call…from the client. Yes, they too knew the fit wasn’t there so they were looking for a clean break at the end of the year and wanted my feedback. Obviously, I answered a resounding, “Yes!” It was still uncomfortable, but not as bad as I’d imagined it would be.

The best part of doing it my wife’s way was twofold. First of all, it wasn’t necessarily an uncomfortable conversation. Candidly, it was a relief for both parties as we discussed a mutually beneficial separation. When I would leave on vacation, this was the only client that would need support from someone, which never really allowed me to fully relax. Secondly, we will maintain a great friendship and working relationship because they truly valued my extended support. Knowing that I’m not Nostradamus, I have no idea where the relationship will lead in the future. Therefore I always try to avoid burning bridges. This is another good leadership principle.


Applying it to your life

So as a leader, what “it’s not you, it’s me” uncomfortable conversations do you need to have? And equally importantly, what “it’s not you, it’s me” uncomfortable conversations do you need to wait and address at a later date?

On a side note, this will be our last blog of the year. Please take time away to spend time with family, loved ones, and appreciate the many blessings received this year!


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