Courageous Conversations: 4 Tips to Success

The events over the past year and a half (and counting), no one expected.  Octavia E. Butler, M. Knight Shyamalan, Stephen King or Jordan Peele could not have created a screenplay that encompasses the upheaval, uneasiness, and confusion the world is experiencing.  As we continue to ride the daily pandemic trends, there is the backdrop of social issues plaguing society. As a result, unspoken lines are being drawn based on instances of microaggressions, unequitable pay and fear of authenticity in the workplace. To create spaces that are truly inclusive, we must seek to understand, stop overlooking negative behavior and become accustomed to being uncomfortable by engaging in courageous conversations. 

These Conversations Are Important

The ability to have conversations that are forthright or courageous is a dynamic tool and especially effective in the workplace. The engagement opportunities can be used to motivate, engage and educate. Unfortunately, this skillset is not one that is emphasized in job descriptions or KPIs. According to a report by Coaching at Work, 2018, a whopping 90% of managers and leaders do not address poor performance or difficult behavior effectively. Of these 90%, 70% are either unable or unwilling to have the courageous conversation needed to address the issue. When delving even more deeply, the research found that 20% of managers and leaders are unable to have the conversation without using an aggressive style, while only 10% are having conversations with clarity, purpose and a style that engages rather than blames or shames the other. These conversations require resilience, bravery, honesty, and empathy.  Because it is in our nature to seek comfort, these interactions are avoided therefore allowing discord to fester. 

Hot Topics with a Formulated Approach

Allison was one of two African- American women on a tech leadership team.  She and the other 

African- American woman are consistently being confused with each other by the division executive.  Allison, who resents not being valued as an individual, recognizes this as an opportunity to have a conversation with the executive to discuss the importance of receiving respect in the workplace.  

Preparation is key as these conversations can be stressful.  This is an opportunity to take your leadership to the next level, no matter your formal title in the organization.  The goal is to address the proverbial elephant in the room while clearly articulating your position, listening, and proposing solutions. 

  1. Don’t Delay– When a situation arises that requires a courageous conversation, act fast. Avoidance increases resentment and inhibits trust, open communication, innovation, and production. 
  2. Intention– When preparing for a difficult conversation, be sure to focus on the matter and check your “feelings”.  If you start to get defensive, change your mindset and focus on growth and clarity by clearly stating boundaries and values
  3. Location– Be intentional about creating a “safe” space.  This includes a neutral meeting space, setting ground rules and having body language that is open and receptive.
  4. Have Grace– The purpose of this conversation is not to demean or exert your power. Do not resort to petty insults, as this will reduce your credibility and the message will be lost. Always meet people where they are. 

The Outcome

Immediately following the most recent incident, Allision sends an invitation for coffee and indicated that there is a matter she would like to discuss. Next, Allison takes the time to create talking points for reference. She also practices the scenario and possible responses/reactions she might receive.  At the meeting, Allison states the issue while making sure her posture is open and welcoming. She also performs regular check-ins throughout the conversation to confirm that she is clearly articulating her message. Though obvious that the executive is initially uncomfortable, as the dialogue continues, the two reach a deeper understanding of each other and the importance of respect in the workplace.  

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