Open the Can of Worms – Even If It Can’t Be Closed Again

By Heather Campbell

can-of-wormsBy Heather Campbell >>

Recently a manager I was coaching described a conversation he had with a member of his team.

He said that the team member commented two or three times that he thought the manager didn’t trust him.

The manager was concerned about this and yet, during the conversation, had ignored the point.

This is a common practice in conversations.

We hear something and still continue the conversation as if we didn’t.


The most common reason is that (as this manager expressed it) we are afraid of the ‘can of worms’ we might open if we pick up on the uncomfortable statement.

And it usually isn’t just that we fear opening the can – more than that we fear not being able to put the worms back in again.

The thing is, if we are going to have meaningful conversations, where we truly engage with others involved, we have to be willing to acknowledge the points that may open up the can.

And we have to do so in the knowledge that we may find the worms can’t be put back in again.

But we can do this secure in the knowledge that it’s preferable to at least explore the mess than to pretend it doesn’t exist.

As managers, we need to lose the desire to fix everything. And stop ignoring those things we can’t fix for fear of making things worse.

Direct reports will often comment on something, knowing that it can’t change.

What they really hate, however, is when the conversation continues as if they hadn’t spoken.

The individual in the example below still doesn’t feel trusted – and he now feels ignored into the bargain.

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