Practice being present

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

Facilitating dialogue about race is a strange job to have. It’s not at all what I thought my professional life would look like. And yet, the deeper I go, the more grateful I become that my life hasn’t unfolded in the ways I’d planned. 

You see, doing this work forces me to be present. When I’m coaching my clients, when I’m facilitating a dialogue, when I’m leading a workshop or speaking. For that moment in time, I choose to set aside the worries and fears that threaten to permanently burrow themselves into the fabric of my being, and listen

Because in order to do this work, I need to see you. Your perspective isn’t of secondary importance when I’m facilitating a dialogue. It’s primary. Genuine conversation and connection can’t unfold when my primary purpose is forcing you to hear me. Or when I’m focused on fixing you. Or when I’m so preoccupied with the way I think things should be that I can’t hear you. 

I’m sharing this with you, because I want you to know that my human and your human are both human. It is a struggle learning how to navigate the race conversation. A struggle that is unpredictable, and often shockingly surprising in its layers.

But there is one thing we all can do that has the power to make a tremendous difference in how our conversations about race unfold. 

Practice being present. Instead of hearing the words we think someone is going to say, begin to hear the words that are actually being said. Instead of concluding that we already know how the conversation is going to go, take a deep breath and let the possibility of the moment unfold. 

Being present in conversations about race gives us the chance to begin to truly see each other.

And seeing each other, really seeing each other, has the power to change everything. 

 
 
 

Lost your way in a difficult conversation?

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

When you feel as if you’ve lost your way in a difficult conversation, resist the urge to shut down. Instead, take your frustration and transform it into an invitation.

An invitation to get curious. An invitation to be just a bit more honest with yourself. An invitation to learn how to move through difficult conversations by actually being in difficult conversations.

You can always pause. Admit that you're not sure what to say next. Ask if you can circle back after you’ve taken some time to intentionally read, research, and reflect.

Losing your way doesn’t mean that the dialogue is hopeless. Sometimes, losing our way is what we experience when we’re on our way to discovering something new.

 
 
 

Carve out space to be with your own thoughts

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

We place a premium on the big moments. On being able to tell our friends and loved ones that we’ve achieved a monumental goal. But the moments that add up to create change don’t happen in the spotlight.

The spotlight highlights whether or not we’re prepared. Which means that the moment of achieving the big goal isn’t where the real work lies.

The work that leads up to the achievement is in the innumerable moments that have come before the big moment. In carving out space to be with our own thoughts. In our willingness to examine our priorities and choices to determine whether they align with what we really value. In our ability to pause, stop, think, and reach out to ask for what we need instead of sticking to the script of what we think we’re supposed to say.

These are real skills. Skills that we often overlook, but that remain essential and invaluable if we want to make choices that help us connect-the-dots between where we are and where we want to go.

Maybe instead of placing such a premium on making big leaps forward, we need to place more value in the everyday steps we take. To learn something new instead of sitting in the comfort of what we know. To participate in that conversation instead of using comparison to silence our voices. To slice through the noise of what we thought we were supposed to do or be and instead make the decision to show up.

Progress happens in many incremental steps that add up to form the change we want to create. We need to take time and space to be with our own thoughts, so we can make sure that the choices we make are pointing us in the direction of the goals we want to achieve.

 
 
 

Take the pressure off

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

So much of the way we communicate today is filled with pressure.

Pressure to appear a certain way, pressure to measure up. (To what? No one knows.) Pressure to seem to be something we’re not. 

And we all give in at one point or another. Because let’s be real - it’s hard to resist the pull of pressure that tells us that conforming is the right choice if we want to belong. 

But what if the most important person we can belong to is ourselves? What if the antidote to the pressure to look a certain way is to accept ourselves where we are, as we are, and then move intentionally through the distraction of comparison towards growth? 

The pressure to measure up or appear a certain way can never deliver what we’re actually looking for. Connection. Knowing that we’re heard. Listening that transforms. Support that isn’t conditioned on our willingness to pretend that everything is OK all the time. This kind of acceptance doesn’t flow from pressure. It’s nurtured by the incremental choices we make to:

Pay attention instead of judge.

Share our thoughts instead of hold back.

Give our energy to the things we want to create and see grow

So let’s resist the urge to pile on the pressure today. Instead, let’s communicate from a place of intentional, conscious choice. 

 
 
 

Life is happening now

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

As a child, I remember thinking, When I grow up, I’ll understand everything. How everything works. How everything is supposed to be. I thought being an adult meant knowing all the answers to all the questions all the time.

What I didn’t realize was that looking at adulthood this way was the equivalent of dropping an anvil of pressure on my shoulders. Because instead of wandering through the rolling seasons aware that the hills are just as much a part of the journey as the plains, the sandy ocean on the beach, and the canyons that fall into deep, deep crevices, I spent my energy trying to wrestle each day into my expectations of the way I thought life would - and should - be.

But the experiences of life constantly remind us that life is happening now. In this very conversation. In that decision that’s so easy to overlook.

Life doesn’t begin in the moment when we suddenly discover that we’re adults holding all the answers. And becoming an adult doesn’t really have anything to do with having all the answers.

Life is happening now. In this very breath.

 
 
 

3 Tips for Connecting in Hard Conversations

 
 
 

When a hard conversation breaks down, it can be difficult to find our way back. After all, it took so much courage to attempt to have the conversation in the first place, and it hurts to have tried, only to find ourselves in an awkward position where we feel disconnected.

Choosing not to connect can be a completely valid (and healthy) choice.

But when we are interested in connecting, it’s helpful to have some tools that help us bridge the gap. Here are three tips to help you connect in a hard conversation (even when things seem to be falling apart):

Tip #1: Take boundaries seriously (including your own).

Often, in hard conversations, we assume that boundaries go out the window. (i.e. This topic is so difficult to navigate that of course, we all know that we’ve got to do whatever it takes to make this work.) This might sound good in theory, but the reality is: We all have feelings. Emotions. Needs. When we insist on pretending that navigating a hard conversations is a one-dimensional experience, we can end up distanced and perplexed.

Tip #2: Prioritize mutual understanding over perpetual comfort.

Respecting boundaries doesn’t mean we’ll all be comfy and cozy 100% of the time. Respecting boundaries means we’ll choose to engage in ways that bring us closer together rather than driving each other further apart. It means that we’re deciding to value mutual understanding more than proving our point.

But that doesn’t mean that the process will be comfortable.

Tip #3: Know when to circle back.

Hard conversations don’t have to happen all in one sitting or never (ever) again. There are times when it’s appropriate to chip away at a difficult dialogue. Moments when it’s necessary to bring in a facilitator.

Sometimes, we need to agree to do some reading, listening, and research so we can come back to the conversation more informed and better prepared to engage.

The reality that a conversation is difficult to have doesn’t mean we have to choose between raging at each other, or ignoring needs in an attempt to come to a consensus. It does mean that we need to practice responding in purposeful ways so that we can keep inching closer towards mutual understanding.

 
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How to transform disappointing conversations into invitations

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

When we’re disappointed by how a conversation unfolds, it’s easy to reach for conclusions.

I knew that was going to happen!

Our conversations always go that way.

There’s no point in trying to have this conversation again.

But the ending of one conversation can be the beginning of a fresh approach.

The beginning of getting honest about what we need.

The beginning of taking a look at our expectations.

The beginning of a discussion about how we want our conversations to go.

When we allow our disappointment to permanently shut down the flow of communication, we miss our opportunity to discover new ways to begin. To transform disappointing conversations into invitations, start by remembering that even endings that go haywire can be the beginning of something new.

 
 
 

Difference is an invitation to look closer

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

Difference is an invitation to look closer. To get curious. To make the choice to see before we decide.

And seeing takes work. It takes stepping outside of our expectations so we can begin to grapple with stories that are not our own. It means taking time to think about how to create meaningful connection that expands the the circle of belonging instead of shrinking it.

Before we can see one another, we need to be willing to hear one another. To listen. To ask questions rooted in reality - questions that lead us to look for answers we might not otherwise discover.

Difference doesn’t have to function as a barrier. Difference can lead us down paths that lead to real and growing connection.

 
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Make everyday choices that create belonging

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

One of the things we crave most in conversations about race is the sense that we’re engaging in meaningful dialogue that builds belonging - that instead of creating scenarios where humans are forced to remain on the outside of our circle of care and concern, we’re creating real, open conversations where human stories, pain, and perspectives are valued.

We don’t have to wait for a holiday or special event to create belonging. And every choice that helps us create belonging doesn’t have to be grand or flashy.

Choices like:

Getting off of our phones to listen & look someone in the eye.

Spending our hard-earned cash with organizations that value human lives and experiences in concrete ways (not just in the hypothetical).

Looking around our circle of friends and getting curious - How did we become friends? Who’s in and who’s out? Which stories are valued and which are cast to the side? Do we see people we wish we shared deeper understanding with as fellow human beings or projects we need to fix?

Reaching for entertainment that helps us discover more about the stories we’ve missed.

Responding to difficult questions with openness and honesty instead of reaching for defensiveness.

Creating belonging in conversations about race demands real tools, practical strategies, and clear intention.

But we can start right where we are, today.

Let’s be open. Stay curious. Choose to see the stories we’ve missed.

 
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