Difficult conversations are hard enough to face without feeling the pressure of the entire universe sitting on our lips.
You are not the only person struggling with the fear of saying the wrong thing in a conversation about race.
But that knowledge doesn’t change the reality that the fear of saying the wrong thing can grow so great that opening our mouths feels like an insurmountable obstacle.
So here are 3 concrete ways to cope with the fear of saying the wrong thing (because you’re not the only one):
Give yourself permission to be completely wrong. Before your next conversation about race, I challenge you to let go of the pressure to convince everyone around you that you already know everything there is to know. Instead, show up to the conversation ready to share + discover.
Let something something else become more important than your fear. When difficult conversations come up, instead of focusing on how afraid you are that you’ll say something ridiculous, focus on the fact that you’re connecting with unfamiliar experiences and perspectives, making the choice to invest your energy in a conversation with deep meaning and real-world impact, or giving yourself the opportunity to overcome your fear by taking conscious action. Focus on your choices more than your anxiety.
Remember that learning demands engagement. When we convince ourselves that not knowing equals failure, we increase the pressure on ourselves and (almost inevitably) disengage. We feel embarrassed, foolish, and ashamed for even trying. But the truth is that the only way we can learn how to navigate difficult conversations is by actually navigating difficult conversations. So stay informed, give yourself healthy boundaries, and reach towards discovering what you don’t know.
Overcoming our fear and finding the strength to speak doesn’t begin with having the perfect words. Finding the strength to speak begins with giving ourselves permission to stay in the process as we learn how to find our voice.