My previous post discussed the importance of holding tough conversations about social justice and equity. Now I want to give you some strategies to that may guide you in engageing in uncomfortable conversations.
Listen to understand, not be understood.
Listening is a key still in effective conversations and dialogue. It’s more important than actually speaking. However, your intention for listening can affect whether you are engaged to understand the other person, or developing a smart, witty reply. Franklin Covey taught us to listen to understand another person’s experiences, circumstances, and emotions. I have trouble listening to others because in the act of listening to others, my mind begins racing about my own experiences, circumstances, and emotions to compare them to the other person to see if I can relate. We all want to relate to people and share our own experiences after someone shared something, however this can take away from us understanding who the other person is and their own experience.
LUFU – Listening Until Someone Feels Understand
This strategy is similar to above, however it takes “listening to understand” at a deeper level by listening to understand someone else until THEY feel they are understood. There have been many times at work and home where I feel I have listened and understood what the other person has said and the other person should feel the same as I do. It doesn’t work that way, we must ensure the other person feels understood, in order for them to be ready to listen and feel at ease to continue the conversation. Below is a youtube video from Jayson Gaddis who teaches this strategy.
Know your own Triggers
This is where some self-work comes in. We must understand who we are, in order to dive in deep into tough conversations with the community. There may be certain things said or done that really upset us, and then we aren’t able to fully engage in the conversation (or listen!).
For example, one concerned community member called me to talk about how her property would be affected by a bridge project. I gave her as much information as I knew and told her I would get back to her with more information. In a public meeting the next day she spoke in front of the community about our phone call and stated that I held information from her and couldn’t tell her the information she needed. I was so embarrassed and upset. I highly value helping others and in that moment I felt betrayed. My best efforts to help someone, were used to advocate that my organization and I are inadequate and withholding information. The rest of the meeting, I was unable to really listen and engage with the community because I was so upset.
Later on, I reflected and asked myself the following questions: Why did this experience upset me? What values do I have that conflicted with what is being said or done? I realized that I felt less than, or inadequate in my ability to help this community member and the community at large. This feeling of “not enough” is deep inside me and affects my ability to engage fully. Now in future conversations I am aware of this “story” I tell myself about not being enough, and can counteract it with a story that I am enough (this takes a lot of work though). I am not better equiped to stay engaged in a conversation even when a little voice that comes up saying “you’re not enough”. Check out the book Crucial Conversations, it goes into more detail about mastering the stories you tell yourself.
“[Y]our basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts.”– Carol Dweck
Tough conversations bring strong emotions out and it can be tough to not shutdown and stay engaged. This is why taking responsibility for your own emotions is critical. When someone “makes you” mad, sad, or frustrated, it’s not entirely their fault for you feeling that way. Your emotions are unique to you and the other person may not even be trying to upset you but actually speaking their own truth. What helps in these situations is to name your own emotion and not put it on the other person “you make me mad”. No, the other person triggered something inside of you that made you mad. It could be what they said, how they said, or becuase of who they are.
These strategies also apply to your daily conversations, and not only for tough conversations. Practicing these strategies in everyday conversations with co-workers, partner, kids, or whoever, will help in learning to use these skills effectively and create a habit of using them. When in tough conversations, our emotions run high and it can be tough to use these skills if you don’t practice them everyday. So get conversating!
Have a Growth Mindset
In order to practice all these strategies, you must have a growth mindset. A mindset that sees failure as needed to learn and grow. Carol Dweck came up with the term “Growth Mindset” in her book and describes it as “the belief that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts.” Meaning that you can learn these skills if you put them into practice and believe you can acquire them. These strategies are not easy, and not all of them will come naturally to all of us. However, if we put them into practice, we can fully engage with our communities and create better cities and towns.