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. 

 
 
 

What we wish people understood about us

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

Hypothetically speaking (of course), it would be wonderful if people understood everything about us before we spoke a word. We’d walk into a room, and the nuances of our hopes, dreams, pains, and desires would be simultaneously clearly apparent yet so obviously private that would could partake in beautiful, smoothly flowing conversation without ever ruffling a single feather.

Unfortunately (fortunately?) that’s not the reality of what interactive conversations are like in real life.

They involve us choosing how much to reveal, and how much to conceal. How much to share, and how much to observe. How much to respond, and how much to react. How much to give of who we are, and how much to hold back.

The realities of daily conversation are far more complicated than we’d like them to be, and yet that doesn’t change the fact that we so deeply desire to be seen. To be understood.

Apparently, we’re facing a real conundrum.

How are we supposed to cut through the push and pull of hesitation, and fear of rejection so that we can start building real relationships? Where on earth are we supposed to begin?

You’re not going to like my answer. Quite frankly, I don’t like it either.

We begin by getting uncomfortable. Uncomfortable with the status quo. Uncomfortable with hiding behind our assumptions. Uncomfortable with standing afar off and passing judgment. Uncomfortable with resting in the refuge of lounging in what we think we know.

When we get uncomfortable with these things, we begin to open up. We catch a glimmer of the stories we’ve missed. We witness a snapshot of the pain we’ve overlooked. We start to see how our choices are contributing to the pain that sits between us. Or not. And we start to recognize that the good stuff, the places where difference can sit beside discovery, are hiding underneath.

It’s simply not the case that the nuances of what we wish people understood about our lives or our experiences will be magically transmitted via osmosis through the air. But it is true that we get a bit closer to beginning to grasp the corners of the spaces where we’ve missed each other when we’re willing to sit down together and learn how to share in ways that help us understand and be understood.

 
 
 

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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Three Scripts for Cringeworthy Moments

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

You sigh. It’s happening. Here I am (AGAIN) in a conversation where I literally cannot believe the words I’m hearing. Your shoulder blades slowly move towards each other and your breath gets just a little quicker, a bit more shallow.

It’s The Cringe. That moment when we’re stuck between speaking up or thinking things through, and neither option looks good. When our eyes want to roll all the way back, but we know that we’ve got to stay engaged if we want to have any chance at actually understanding what’s going on so we can figure out what to do next.

The Cringe can be incredibly uncomfortable to navigate. It can leave us feeling torn. But what are we supposed to do when we’re in a conversation and someone says something that insults, demeans, or dismisses a human being?

In the moment it can be difficult to think. To sort through all of the competing priorities, practice healthy boundaries, and decide what to do next.

One way to cut through all the pressure is to carve out 10 minutes in our everyday lives to identify ways we can respond the next time The Cringe starts. Here are three (3) scripts to help you get rolling.


Script #1

Take a deep breath (to give ourselves a moment to process), and then say: I’m worried that the way we’re having this conversation is causing us to dismiss real human stories and ignore real human pain. Let’s pause for a second and then try again.

Script #2

Look someone in the eye and say: Your perspective is important to me, and I’m not interested in living life stuck in my assumptions. So I need to ask you a question about what you just said to make sure I’m understanding you clearly.

Script #3

Practice healthy boundaries and say: Having this conversation in this way doesn’t help me understand you. And it makes it harder for us to relate to human experiences that we haven’t lived. I’m interested in creating connection in hard conversations. So either we need to change our approach, or we’ll need to revisit this conversation at another point in time.


Being in a difficult spot in a challenging conversation isn’t an easy path to walk, but we are capable of finding a way through it. One that upholds human dignity and healthy boundaries.

Take 10 minutes today to think through ways you’d like to respond the next time you find yourself in a Cringe moment. Preparing to respond with intention and clarity in advance can help us feel more prepared (and less blindsided).

Because the truth is that when The Cringe begins we still have the power to make a choice about what to do next.

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

3 ways to cope with the fear of saying the wrong thing

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

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):

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

 
 

For when you just can't find the words

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

When we can’t find the words it’s easy to think I don’t have anything meaningful to say. Or The way they say it is so much more eloquent. Or Until I know everything I can’t say anything.

But when we can’t find the words that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with us. That there’s something we need to do. Or that there’s anything wrong with our words at all.

When the words won’t come, perhaps we’re: 

Thinking.

Taking care to listen. 

Choosing to respond deliberately instead of reacting.

Or we might be weaving words together within us so that we can prepare ourselves to speak. 

When the words don’t come immediately it’s not necessarily a sign that we’re lacking something.

Sometimes, it means we’re investing the time, energy, and commitment required to speak words that flow from the depths of who we are. 

 
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Is anyone listening?

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

When we feel like no one is listening it can be easy to begin doubting the significance of our own voice. When we’re surrounded by voices that seem more confident and self-assured, it can be easy to conclude that perhaps our voice is irrelevant - that what we have to share just isn’t needed in the conversation.

But when we feel like no one’s listening it’s imperative that we make sure we’re listening to ourselves. Keeping track of what our own voice is yearning to express.

It’s important that we take the time to notice:

Our unasked questions.

Our hidden joys.

Our silenced pain.

Because even in the moments when it seems like no one is listening, we have the power to choose to listen to our own voice.

As we practice listening to our own voice, we grow in our ability to truly hear the voices around us. We position ourselves to become more effective, discerning listeners. And that, opens the door to helping more humans feel listened to (instead of being swept along by the voices that surround us).

 
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