Healthy relationships and a sense of belonging and connection contribute to our well-being. How do we improve our relationships and expand our circles of belonging to enhance our own lives and our community? One tool is engaging in courageous conversations. These conversations invite us to remain curious, open minded, listen deeply and ask genuine – even challenging – questions. In respectful conversations, everyone counts.
Courageous conversations are a stark contrast to polarizing or divisive messaging delivered with blame, defensiveness, fear, hostility, imposition. Yes, courageous conversations can be difficult or uncomfortable. They require intention, practice, tolerance, and kindness. They seek to understand and to look for common ground. Having trust in your ability to discuss essential topics directly and honestly is a key to healthy individuals, relationships, and communities.
I was touched by the article on “Longtime Valentines” in the Feb. 17 edition of this paper. In answer to the question, ‘What do you believe are the keys to the success of your lifelong relationship?’ Herman Milligan answered, “Truly loving someone even when there are periods of disagreement about life situations that are major and/or not as important. Learning to take the other person’s point of view and feeling comfortable to raise an issue that should be discussed as opposed to internalizing it and not discussing it at all.”
As a health and wellness coach, client’s often request support increasing their confidence in courageous conversations. They want to strengthen their ability to respond instead of overreacting in their personal and professional relationships. This keeps their prefrontal cortex and executive functioning active. Who doesn’t need full access to our executive skills: self-restraint, working memory, emotion control, focus, task initiation, planning/prioritization, organization, time management, defining and achieving goals, flexibility, observation, and stress tolerance?
Here is a summary from authentic communication cards I utilize in my practice founded in non-violent communication to assist in developing conversational intelligence.
When preparing for a conversation you anticipate being triggering or tender, consider these components of authentic speaking:
1. Name what you are experiencing without judgment.
2. Share what the impact is on you, including emotions.
3. Ask for what you need and want.
4. Use ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements.
When it is your turn to authentically listen, consider these components of active listening:
1. Mirror back to the person speaking. What I am hearing you say is…. Is this right? Is there more?
2. When the speaker feels heard and understood, summarize the essence of their perspective including experience, feelings, impact, and request.
3. Validate their experience with statements such as “I can understand your perspective”.... or “It makes sense because”...
4. Validating does not mean you agree. It means you heard them, and they count.
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” ~ David W. Augsburger,
How do we utilize courageous conversations to expand our circles of belonging to support healthier communities? Belonging is centered on gaining acceptance, attention, and support to and from members of a group. Connection is essential for optimal health and wellness.
We have, however, seen the damage, polarization, and divisiveness when we engage in othering. If we have the mindset of ‘us’ against ‘them,’ scarcity, hostility toward the unfamiliar or unknown, or to push back against those who are different, we all suffer. Othering is defined as a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across a full range of human differences based on group identities. Invite courageous conversations from ‘others’ who have a different point of view or experience from your own and expand your sense of belonging.
Challenge yourself to notice when you want to impose your opinion on another rather than have a conversation where you both respectfully count. Practice deep listening, seek first to understand then to be understood, expand your mindset, heal our divides. Your skill and willingness to engage in empowering courageous conversations is needed today more than ever. As Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” It takes courage to co-create a future with the highest potential for all living beings in our communities.
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