There is no doubt difficult conversations can be uncomfortable. I take issue with the recent mantra that we “need” to have “uncomfortable conversations.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m more honest when discomfort isn’t a requirement.
Even when all parties involved are equally open-minded, certain topics can be uncomfortable. But, there are attitudes and approaches that stifle honesty and create unnecessary and counterproductive discomfort.
When we insist on having an “uncomfortable conversation,” let’s ask ourselves:
❓Are we focused on blaming?*
❓Are we threatening to penalize?
❓Are we insisting on a change of viewpoint?
❓Are we imposing our beliefs on others?
❓Are we making it our job to make others confront THEIR truth?
❓Are we presuming to know what is another person’s truth?
💙 Are we listening at least as much as we are speaking?
💙 Are we presenting information without imposing or expecting a specific response?
💙 Are we open to the possibility that there may be another, valid perspective?
💙 Do we acknowledge that we have biases affecting how we hear things about ourselves, not just affecting how we see others and how others see us?
💙 Are we ready to walk away from the conversation without severing our relationship with or canceling the other party, if they don’t agree with us?
We don’t usually engage in difficult conversations unless we care to repair or improve a relationship; any relationship. Whether it’s on a personal level, organizational level or societal level, our goal is to move forward. If those are not our intentions, if we are more focused on being “right” than on truly listening to each other and eliciting honest communication, then we need to rethink how we have those difficult conversations.
*A note on accountability as opposed to blame:
Accountability is blame by a different name if it isn’t focused on finding a solution.
❓When we seek facts about a difficult situation, are we using them to develop a solution or merely to lay blame?
▪️ When we say “we need to hold so-and-so accountable,” often the focus is on finding fault. This is blame, not accountability. Blame is fault-focused and backward-looking. It may give us a short-term satisfaction, but it doesn’t move us forward.
▪️ Accountability, on the other hand, is responsibility-based, forward-looking and solution-oriented. We need to take responsibility for our part and acknowledge our mistakes so we can learn from them and do better going forward.
▪️ The distinction really lies in the type of satisfaction we are hoping to get from the facts we seek. Are we more concerned with moving forward and finding solutions, or looking backward to find the fault?
Whether in the workplace, in our personal relationships or when discussing matters that affect our societies, let’s consider this distinction when looking to hold someone accountable, including ourselves.
And let’s try our best to engage in honest, respectful conversations.
There is a lot to gain by reading others, much to contribute by sharing ourselves, but engaging respectfully with each other is where the real magic ✨ happens.