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Navigating Difficult Conversations

When we are able to navigate difficult conversations we can grow to become more self aware. Often times, we can realize people are fundamentally fighting for the same things, their beliefs, values, and truths. Challenging ourselves to grow is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, and helping ourselves and others push our thinking to consider other points of views. 

This takes courage. Engaging others to explore where their thoughts come from, through questions such as, "what shaped your perspective?" can reveal biases, assumptions and misconceptions. Asking clarifying questions allows ourself and others to explore their cognitive traps. By understanding what is true, and not true, we can reveal misconceptions and gain clarity. Just because our views are different, doesn't mean there has to be conflict.

Here are some tips to help navigate difficult conversations:

  • Create a safe and trusting environment to encourage sharing. This is crucial in the beginning of learning. This is beyond the traditional speak your mind statements. People need to know that it’s safe to share their unpopular or uncomfortable truths. This is about creating a climate of trust and growth mindedness. It sets the stage early on, so that learners break down barriers that may hold them back from being vulnerable, and shows that they will be supported through the learning process.
  • Recognize what’s unspoken. Pay attention to what’s not said. This is the body language or facial reactions. Does someone lean in to the conversation or shrink when it gets uncomfortable? It can take time to develop this skill set, because your initial focus is knowing the content, watching the clock to stay on time, ensuring students hit the “anticipated responses,” etc. it’s easy to miss a lot of the unsaid, or accept the surface answer. The real learning opportunities can be achieved by digging past the surface.
  • Don’t shut down what seems to be uncomfortable conversations. Instead, engage learners to understand what experiences created their beliefs. This may help other learners enhance their understanding, or identifying missing pieces or new perspectives that can shift everyone’s ideas.
  • Ask clarifying questions and encourage others to share differing perspectives to challenge the first train of thought. This requires comfort in asking open ended questions, which requires practice. What makes you think, feel, communicate that way? How has your experiences shaped who you are? Why does your perspective have to consider others as wrong?
  • Remain neutral and curious. This allows others to share and express freely.
  • Engage the other person to explore where their thoughts come from. Use questions to understand and clarify. 

Navigating conversations with people with opposing views can help develop understanding and identify potential similarities for connection points. While people may shy away from difficult conversations, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable may facilitate change and growth, creating potentially life changing moments for all involved.

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