The Conversation Tightrope: Balancing Authenticity and Approval

Have you ever walked a tightrope? Imagine that you are. You attempt to maintain balance while facing the constant distraction of the crowd’s applause. Wouldn’t it be great to look at your adoring fans? It’s a tempting draw … but you need to stay on track! It’s not enough to be liked!

In our conversations and relationships, the desire to be liked can be just like those adoring fans. It might seem an alluring distraction, but it can derail your ability to focus on having honest, sometimes tricky discussions.

Let’s explore how prioritising the approval of others can steer us away from the conversations we really need to have. We’ll also think about the importance of focusing on the purpose of our conversations and shifting our mindset from people-pleasing to constructive dialogue.


The High Wire Act of Approval

We often work with people we’ve known for a long time and may even socialise with them. Wanting to be liked by them, and others is natural. But when we are driven by the need to be liked, we risk losing sight of the conversations that matter most. If our need for approval dominates our behaviour it can lead us astray. We head towards the cheering audience. The following are some of the signs that your behaviour is being influenced by a need to be liked:

Saying “Yes” when you want to say “No”

It’s like agreeing to perform a daring trick that you know deep down you’re not yet ready for. The fear of disappointing others can push you to say ‘yes’ when ‘no’ is what you truly mean. The crowd may love it, but it can leave you feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from your own needs.

Performing Unwanted Stunts

Imagine being coerced into an acrobatic routine that doesn’t suit your skills or you don’t enjoy. Blindfolded knife throwing anyone?! It might work out ok, but it could be a disaster! Similarly, constantly seeking to be liked can push you to do things you don’t want to do to keep others happy. These activities or behaviours may not reflect your true self or values and can leave you frustrated and unhappy.

Avoiding the High Wire of Disapproval

Instead of fearlessly walking the tightrope of honest conversations, you might choose to walk on a safe, well-travelled path that avoids disapproval and offers little resistance. You avoid making decisions that you fear will be unpopular. However, this fear of unpopularity can stop you from addressing important issues and making tough but necessary decisions.

Plummeting into Resentment

If you repeatedly suppress what you think and feel to please others, resentment can build, pushing you off course. It’s like secretly harbouring a grudge whilst maintaining a constant smile. This hidden resentment can strain relationships and affect your overall wellbeing.


Stepping into the Right Conversation

To overcome these potential hazards, we need to regain our balance and focus on honest and effective communication. By doing this you can be confident you will be able to have Savvy Conversations with absolutely anyone, regardless of how long you’ve known them, whether you like them or not, or what your relationship is.

Here are some strategies that can help you to stay on track:

Eyes on the Tightrope

Stay focused on the purpose of the conversation. Just as a tightrope walker’s gaze remains fixed on the endpoint, remind yourself of the desired outcome and resist the lure of immediate approval.

Striving for Respect, Not Just Applause

Shift your focus away from being liked to being respected. Encourage constructive conversations where different perspectives are valued. Challenging each other can lead to personal and team growth as well as innovative solutions.

Overcome your Fear (of Heights)

Differentiate between the message you are sharing and personal attacks. Are you afraid of heights, or of hitting the ground if you fall? People may not like your message, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like or respect you. Understand that constructive disagreement can lead to significant progress. By embracing this, you create a culture of growth and deeper understanding.

Embracing the Thrill of Authenticity

Rather than succumbing to the fear of unpopularity, embrace the thrill of having the right conversations, in the right way, at the right time. Like a tightrope walker conquering their fears, courageously take one step at a time towards the issues that need your attention. You will develop genuine connections and personal growth with each step.


Walking the tightrope between authenticity and approval is a delicate balancing act. Whist the desire to be liked is natural, letting it get in the way of the conversations we need to have can cause problems and certainly isn’t the right mindset for Savvy Conversations. By focusing on the purpose at hand and shifting our mindset from people-pleasing to constructive dialogue, we can stay on course. Embrace the thrill of authenticity, knowing that the right conversations lead to genuine connections and more effective workplace relationships.


Want to know more?

Sarah Harvey is Founding Director of Savvy Conversations Ltd and author of the highly acclaimed book “Savvy Conversations: A practical framework for effective workplace relationships.”


Linked In:
Twitter: @SarahSavvySarah
Instagram: savvysarah


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