With tons of little kids in the house these days (my own, typically, although occasionally others drop by to join in on the circus), I’m now doing a lot of my work in a co-working space. This has been a radical change in my work life, and one I’m embracing so far.

Very quickly it has also reminded me of the office niceties and water cooler politics that come along with working in a physical space with others, and has brought up some issues I haven’t thought of in a long time.

One issue that’s been exceedingly clear? Our work lives are full of things we don’t say. Not necessarily big, hairy, work-related things, but little, smaller, people-related things. And the more physical time we spend with those we work with, the more obvious this is.

Take one case in point: It’s cold and flu season in Argentina. And with that comes sick people.

I clearly remember working at Twitter and getting emails from coworkers and bosses asking – no, begging – folks not to come to work sick. The efficacy of these messages was limited, for the simple reason that many of us like our work and certainly don’t want to slack off in getting it done (or be seen to be slacking off). Many of us also excel at not taking the rest we need, but that’s a blog post for another day.

One day recently, I showed up at the co-working space and pulled out my regular chair and start tapping away. So I’m sitting, writing, working, and soon I realize that I am sitting next to someone who needs to desperately be underneath the covers with a vat of chicken soup by their side. I work. I hear the hacking. The sneezing. See the tissues pile up. At one point, I move to the other side of the room, hoping to put some distance between me and the germs. But my paranoia of getting sick continues (I have preemies at home, people). Ultimately, I decide to leave, right before said plague victim takes it upon himself to head home and save me the trouble.

When I went home and told my husband about it that night, he challenged me about why I hadn’t said anything. And we talked through the nuances of when you can say something and when you can’t, as this is just one of many examples in my life right now where I’m hugging the line between speaking out and staying quiet.

Ultimately, I think I handled this particular case pretty badly. I can chock it up pretty easily to my fear of conflict, even in the smallest of things (like this), but at the end of the day I do wish I had been able to woman up a little bit more to say something empathetic like, “Hey, you seem sick! Why don’t you go home and rest?”

Avoiding conflict like the plague is not a way to live, and not something I’m proud of. And being able to have tough conversations is something that I’m finding more and more needed as the years go by, as I add more kids to my life and more work to my growing business, and it’s something I’m actively working on improving in my own life.

As with everything, though, it takes baby steps.

A question for you: What have you done to try and work on being better at having hard conversations?

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