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.

 
 
 

Don't be afraid to feel when you talk about race

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

There are conversations in our culture that occupy special pockets. You know, those conversations that are reserved for special occasions when we’re prepared to hash out a perfect solution in one fell swoop (or limit ourselves tip-toeing around the edges). The race conversation is one of those conversations.

We head into conversations about race filled with dread, worry, fear, and heightened stress. Then we judge ourselves (and each other) for feeling what we’re feeling, presume that there’s something wrong with us for feeling what we’re feeling, and then try to find the words to communicate what we need to communicate in the midst of all of the feelings we’re ashamed about.

We often try to cope with this by pretending that there’s no place for feelings in conversations about race. We intellectualize human stories so much that the realities of the ways we experience race become abstract and seemingly detached from the everyday lives we lead.

And in the process, we sacrifice our ability to connect.

Productive conversations about race don’t happen because we’ve parsed out feeling from fact, history, context, research, and personal experience.

Productive conversations about race happen as we learn how to make room for feeling as we awkwardly stumble through unrehearsed dialogue about fact, history, context, research, and personal experience.

That’s how we begin to see each other.

Having feelings doesn’t mean you’re incapable of learning how to talk about race. Having feelings is part of being human. And real dialogue about race inevitably involves palpable and nuanced discussions about real human experiences.

So don’t be afraid to feel when you talk about race. Pay attention to your feelings. Take care of your own feelings. Feeling is part of the process of learning how to move through the dialogue with honesty and openness instead of putting on the show that we think is supposed to transpire.

And that’s a big part of how we inch a little bit closer to creating connection in everyday dialogue about race - instead of treating the conversation like it belongs in a special pocket.

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

Brave isn't fancy

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

Brave doesn’t look anything like we’d expect.

There’s no soaring soundtrack playing in the background, no round of applause ready to roll on queue.

Often there’s no one looking at all.

There aren’t any expert panels dissecting multiple facets of our decision, or grand announcements to tell the world about our achievement of extraordinary feats.

There’s you. Me. A choice. The unknown.

There’s choosing to speak when it would be so much simpler to remain silent. There’s choosing to cultivate understanding where it would be easier to dismiss someone outright. There’s taking deep breaths to regulate ourselves so that we can keep moving through the challenge.

There are moments of deep thought and quiet contemplation. There’s the vulnerability of reaching out to trusted sources to ask for support. There’s the courage of choosing to show up.

Brave isn’t fancy. It’s not splashy. And it’s definitely not picture-perfect.

Brave isn’t focused on how things look. Brave digs down, and focuses our attention on the way things are so that we can choose to create the things we wish could be.

 
 
 
 

Real conversations are about taking turns

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

It's so easy to forget that real conversation is about taking turns.

Not getting up on a soapbox and pontificating. 

Not tapping my toes, waiting for the other person to stop talking so I can have my say. 

Not pushing my voice just a little bit louder to make sure I prove my point. 

Real conversations are about having the courage to ask for connection

Sharing our stories. 

Waiting. 

Listening.

Responding.

Taking turns isn’t weak. Taking turns creates room for our voices to grow stronger as our stories move just a bit closer together…

 
 
 
 

How to make room for a moment of joy in a conversation we want to avoid

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

Just thinking about this conversation was making me nervous. But it needed to happen. This person doesn't know me well, but I knew I needed to set a healthy boundary.

I hopped on the phone (to return their call), and listened. And the more closely I listened, the more it became clear that the boundary I needed to set wasn't just going to benefit me, it was going to benefit us both.

I decided to respond by meeting the need they were sharing with me instead of letting my fear of not pleasing them become an excuse for not setting a healthy boundary. When they then asked me directly to do something I knew would violate my boundary, I simply owned up and let them know (kindly but directly) that I wouldn't be able to do it.

And would you believe it? It made them laugh out loud. They couldn't believe that I was being so real. I kid you not. This person laughed, and laughed, and laughed. They were refreshed by my honesty. The complete opposite of what I’d been expecting.

I. Was. So. Surprised. Who knew boundaries could be refreshing?

I share this with you because for the longest time I thought that setting boundaries would always and forever be the most horrible experience ever. And I'm realizing that that's just not true.

Yes, it can be challenging to set boundaries.

But the boundaries we set also create space for joy. For being refreshed. For discovering that we can stay in relationship because we're embracing mutual respect instead of enduring relationship because we're endlessly trying to please.

So, the next time you find yourself thinking "it's just easier to keep the peace" I hope you'll know that you're not alone in that struggle, and perhaps give yourself permission to set a boundary that makes room for a moment of joy.

 
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I was so completely wrong about what leadership is

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately. Growing up, I had a picture in my head about what leadership was. What being "in charge" looked like. 

Being a leader meant being cold and distant. Detaching yourself from the emotions and needs of people around you. Fixing "problems" which was usually code for eliminating things and people you didn't like from your circle of influence. Ignoring different opinions. Doing everything you could to make sure you came out on top. No matter the cost. 

If this is what leadership is then I had very little interest in being a leader

Still don't.

I want to be a person. A human who cares about what people think because I care about who they are.

Someone who listens because she understands loneliness and believes that part of the purpose of pain is to open our eyes to the love we can choose give. A being who sees people and offers them the kindness she's willing to learn to give to herself. 

What I thought was leadership was really fear trying to hide itself in insecurity

This was a revelation to me. A revelation that set me free to begin discovering what leadership really is. 

Leadership is you and me walking beside each other, choosing to listen and truly understand each other as we journey together

You are a leader. 

I am a leader. 

We learn to lead when we choose to show up to life as ourselves. 

That is what makes you a leader. 

Right where you are. Today. 

 
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