Sometimes, the things that matter the most are the things that are hardest to talk about.
Whether you’re standing up for a belief, asserting a right, or defending your time, it’s majorly important to communicate about even the most difficult topics with the people around you. The topics that matter, however, are the ones that often create some discomfort or conflict. They’re personal. They’re sensitive. They’re important. And disagreements cannot be avoided, no matter what you believe. If there’s a disagreement between you and someone you know — don’t run from it. Talk about it.
Difficult conversations can also arise when we find ourselves in territory that may be unfamiliar. When we engage with people with different life experiences than ours, it can be hard to know what to say, what’s right to say, and what needs to be said by us. In these instances, our discomfort is important, as it can become a vehicle for change.
Right now, we’re seeing a movement for the rights and lives of the black community like we have never seen before. In the midst of the outcry and protest at the taking of George Floyd’s life, many of us have taken a stance and made it known. When the people around you disagree with that stance, having the important conversation about justice will be tough. But it’s entirely necessary.
Do not remain silent in times of discomfort. Instead, be resilient in your search for truth, justice, and understanding.
Here are some tips for having the difficult conversations during this time, both with the people you love, and people you may have just met.
5 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations
1. If you disagree, be open — not defensive
The people you know that disagree with you on an issue have likely made it known before you’ve entered an intentional conversation about it with them. Avoid making assumptions about the person, but understand that they may have a negative reaction to your opinion. Instead of using this as material to build up your wall and stay defensive, try your best to be open to hearing a new perspective. Know that the perspective you will hear is not your own, and observe it. Engage with it. Explore it, and work to understand it, even if you disagree.
Try to avoid looking at the other person as your opponent in this interaction. Remember, you are two human beings seeking to understand each other. Communicate from a place of compassion, not anger.
2. Get comfortable with discomfort
The hardest conversations cause us to examine our motives, challenge our patience, and check our privilege. Maybe you don’t feel socially aware enough to be speaking on a matter, but you know you need to speak up for what’s right. Maybe you’ve never spoken up before, and wonder if now is the time. That discomfort is a sign of change. It’s a sign of growth. Let it lead you to a new perspective.
Start to get comfortable with the experience of being uncomfortable. Maybe your discomfort comes from a fear of saying the wrong thing or driving the other person away, whether you disagree with their perspective or not. But when it comes to speaking up, it is better to say something wrong and learn from the experience than to not speak up at all. While the mistake may feel awkward, it will bring growth. Learning from your mistakes will always bring you growth.
3. What’s the why?
When you’re entering into a challenging conversation, ask yourself this question:
What is unsaid that needs to be said, and why does it needs to said by me?
The attitude with which you enter a conversation is ultimately the result you’ll see in the end. If you’re speaking with someone so you can tell them how wrong they are or how much you disagree with them, the result of the conversation will be anger, disrespect, and a lack of understanding from both parties.
However, if you enter a conversation with a desire to understand, to share, to be open about the unsaid and have an honest communication, the result will be far more positive. If someone you know holds an opinion that isn’t only different from yours, but could potentially be harmful to others, compose yourself. You have a right to disagree, and that anger has a valid place. But do not bring your anger to the space where you come together with that person to hopefully educate (not condemn or belittle) them and help them to understand. Ask them why they feel the way they do, and offer to share a few resources that helped you to shape your own perspective.
4. Admit when you don’t understand
Discomfort can arise when we find ourselves in situations where we truly don’t understand an issue or simply do not have the right answer, even when we have the best intentions. If the person you’re talking to has a vastly different experience than you, whether that be in their career, their cultural background, or their social surroundings, it is okay to admit when you do not understand. In fact, it’s extremely helpful to admit when you do not understand. Instead of pretending to know it all, acknowledge your shortcomings, and be honest.
This awareness, however, should not stop at the awareness itself. Seek to understand. Educate yourself on your community, your country, your laws — whatever the issue may be. How can you educate others if you cannot educate yourself? Instead of placing that responsibility upon the person or practice or situation you don’t yet understand, put in the effort to learn and grow. A commitment to continued learning will open doors for new perspectives and conversations.
Above all, listen. A conversation is a two-way street. If you do not listen to the other person, you are no longer having a conversation.
Be mindful of your role in the conversations you engage in. If you are seeking to educate someone or help them in their journey, do not use that experience as a time to talk down to someone or make them feel guilty for not already knowing what you know. We are all at different stages in our journey, and if that person is open to hearing you, be grateful for the chance to guide them.
If you’re connecting to a person you may have never connected with before, someone unfamiliar to you, someone different than you, value that experience. Listen closely, and listen well. Those who hold experiences that do not match your own are those we can often learn from the most. Though there may be discomfort in the fact that you do not immediately understand their experience, what matters most is that you listen and learn to better yourself for the future.
QOTD: Think about a conversation you’ve been avoiding. What’s keeping you from having it?