5 Ways To Have Candid Conversations
best paired with “Why” by Annie Lennox
“Wisdom comes from reasoning together” African proverb
These last few months have opened up, what I call ‘blistered conversations’, conversations that have turned people inside out and surfaced much discomfort, shame, pain, vulnerability. Yet, through all of the muck, there has been a rich opportunity for learning and engaging from a place of humility and openness, no matter where we are on the journey of understanding one another. While there is no pre-packaged formula for having a candid and thoughtful conversation, there are some ways worth exploring in support speaking to each other with candor and openness on sensitive issues.
Stink It Up
The most awkward conversation is often the most powerful one. Put that stinky fish aka the thorny topic, right on the table and pull up a chair. Acknowledge the stink in the room and get ready to clean it up, one flaky piece at a time.
Fail With Fervour
Start from humble inquiry and fail with fervour. None of us can speak for an entire experience of any kind, whether it be the black experience, discovering a country etc…hence whatever you say may land you in hot water. Yet it is only through failure that one can course correct. Leading with curiosity is a way through discomfort.
We are, after all, life long learners, wired to be curious, a behavioural characteristic called neoteny or the ‘retention of juvenile characteristics’. It is our childlike inquisitive nature to know, to always be asking questions. Preface your conversation by expressing just that, you don’t know, nor have all the answers but you have a perspective and seek to learn from others. To not try is to fail.
Name It Now
Check in with yourself as you engage in rough and tumble conversations. Effective conversations are best served with a calm mind. Emotions run the show when they are left unchecked. Research shows that naming an emotion, rather than glossing over it, reduces its intensity, particularly during conflict. Susan Daily, author of Emotional Agility points to some questions you can try on yourself:
“What is the emotion behind the emotion?”
“What are two other emotions I am experiencing?”
Engage In Earnest
One phrase I often hear is, “I understand where you are coming from…”. I often feel somewhat frustrated with this statement as it sends me on a merry go round. Let’s be very clear, it is extraordinarily difficult to understand anyone unless you are literally in their head or have lived their experience as a co-joined twin! We can at best ‘imagine’ what [insert experience] might be like because we thankfully have the power of imagination. So next time someone shares a sensitive experience, linked to race for example, reframe your statement by starting with “I can only imagine’ or “I can imagine how that might…”
Talk With Your Ears
Listen, listen and then listen some more. I often find myself waiting for a pause to jump straight in with my view rather than to focus on listening with intent. Following up with open ended questions by starting with “what” “how” or “say more about” helps deepen the conversation and demonstrates active listening. As Mark Twain so beautifully observed” If God wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths and one ear.”
As with anything, candid conversations require endless practice, take solace in knowing that engaging from a place of curiosity strengthens human connection, and we need it now more than ever.
Hugs and joy