Imagine you need to have a challenging conversation which must be delivered with power and poise. How would you go about doing that?
Most people would go to tremendous efforts to avoid having the conversation in the first place. Because more often than not, these kind of ‘talks’ do not go very well.
The problem is that Courageous Conversations are a necessary part of our life and become very dangerous if ignored. In fact, the situation often gets worse.
I define Courageous Conversation as 'The courage to have a meaningful conversation that leads to progress, no matter how challenging'. It is not only about having the skills to get through tricky conversations, it is about using the right words to move forward in a positive way.
Most of us never learnt communication skills in school, which has left us without a plan when courage is needed.
I learnt the importance of Courageous Conversation many years ago when I was working in a women’s crisis shelter. The centre housed women who had been badly abused by their partners. Anyone who worked with the shelter obviously needed to go through training to prepare for some fragile conversations. As part of my training, I was give the following scenario:
A woman had come to the shelter after spending a week in hospital. She had been put there by her husband who beat her so badly that she nearly died. After 3 weeks at the shelter, she began to feel better both physically and mentally. She came to me and revealed that she was thinking of going back home to her husband. She had spoken to him last night and he seemed very sorry. What do I say to her?
My initial instinct was to scream “NO! ARE YOU CRAZY?! Don’t do that…. And let me tell you all the reasons why!”
I failed that assignment.
Because I was doing exactly what her husband had done to her so many times in the past, I had taken away her power to decide for herself.
The more courageous approach would have been to acknowledge her decision, reinforcing that I truly understood where she was coming from.
The next step should have been to ask her if she had any reservations about her decision, and if so, then why? We could have had an adult discussion about each one of her reservations which may have led her to see a different perspective.
Regardless of the outcome of our talk, the most important message of our conversation should have been this:
We all have the right to make our own decisions.
She needed to be empowered to do so and to stop letting another person tell her what to do.
Sometimes a great conversation is not about using your words to persuade and negotiate your desired outcome. A courageous conversation can be most effective when we stop and really listen to someone else, engage in subtle questioning through exploring options and then let the other person reach their own conclusion. In fact, I always start my talks by reinforcing the first step of Courageous Conversation is to know that your way is not the only way.
Today, I spend my days speaking and training people on how to have more 'Courageous Conversations', no matter how challenging they may be. I strongly believe it is essential to have more uncomfortable conversations than we are having right now. Because the world is not comfortable place, and even though we cannot change that fact, we CAN learn how to deal with it.
As Ruth Gordo once said: Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it by use.
Janet Tarasofsky is an award-winning public speaker determined to help businesses grow through teaching better communication strategies.
Learn more about having challenging conversations and join Janet's DrivenWoman workshop - Courageous Conversations - in London, Soho on Monday 28th November 2016.