How to Have a Courageous Conversation

Do you balk at the idea of having a conversation with someone when you uncertain of what direction the conversation may take?  Do you avoid having conversations with people regarding topics you are uncomfortable with, or in an area you feel particularly sensitive?  Do you run circles around an issue with someone in your life?

I spent the majority of my life avoiding having difficult conversations with people in my life.  You know the talks - you’re really bothered by something they’ve done, or something that has happened between you, but don’t know how to broach the subject, or you are afraid of what their response will be.  You may need something from them and don’t know how to ask without feeling completely vulnerable and naked, afraid of being rejected.  The list goes on.  The one thing they all have in common, you are afraid of what their response might be, and you might be very afraid of how the conversation will affect the relationship.  We stuff down our feelings and act as if everything is alright.  The irony is that we often experience more heartache through not expressing ourselves than actually just having the talk.

Like many people, I did not have these types of conversations modeled well for me throughout my life.  It’s not about blame, it’s that I didn’t actually even know there was a way to do have these types of conversations without ending in an argument.  I now know better.  When we know better, we do better.  I have discovered that like anything, the more I practice having these types of conversations, the easier they become.

These sometimes difficult and awkward conversations are very important in leading a life being authentically who you are.  I have nicknamed them “courageous conversations” because they do take a certain amount of bravery.  They require showing up as your authentic self, being open to constructive feedback.  Because they are so important I have decided to write a series of articles of “how to’s” to help navigate these sometimes scary and unfamiliar waters. 

Let's suppose you are at the spot where you have decided to have a conversation with somebody and you’re feeling out of your comfort zone, perhaps a bit vulnerable and apprehensive.  You don’t know how they will react and how the relationship will move forward, or if it will in fact, move forward.  First of all, know that anybody who is trying to lead a life of integrity and authenticity has been here.  You are not alone.  You are certainly not the first or last person to experience nervousness in this arena.  If you have decided to have a courageous conversation with someone then this is clearly something that is important to you. Remember, your needs and wants are important for a healthy, sustainable, balanced relationship.  It’s ok to be nervous.

Before you even start to think about what you want to say, the very first, and the most important part of planning a courageous conversation is to be 100% clear on your intention in having the conversation.  Be completely honest with yourself.  Is your intention to be right by making the other person wrong?  Are you wanting to strengthen the relationship by having honest communication about your needs?  Are you wanting to end a relationship?  Are you wanting just to vent frustration about the other person without having a clear purpose to what you hope to achieve?

These are very important questions to ask yourself.  The first question I always ask myself is if I want the relationship in my life.  The answer to this question can lead you in very different directions.  If you decide you do not want the relationship in your life, I most respectfully ask you to sleep on it, or think about it for a few days before taking any action.  Is there anger or hurt feelings getting in your way or is there any way you are reacting defensively?  You know deep in your heart whether you are being reactive or if you truly feel it’s time to move on.  Imagine what your life would like without that person, or more importantly, feel how it would feel without that person in your life.  My experience is that if I know it’s time to move on, I just KNOW.  I don’t feel an emotional charge around the situation.  Although I may feel sad about it, I also have a deep sense of peace.  Only you will know.

If you have decided to part ways with this person, I will address the next steps in my next article.

If you have decided you wish to have this person in your life, think about what you hope to accomplish from your conversation.  Intention truly is everything.  I will not initiate the conversation until I am clear on my intention.  I have had enough of these types of conversations to know that when I take the details out of each particular instance, they have the same basic structure.  Something has transpired between me and someone else and it’s a large enough detail that I need to talk about it because it is getting in the way of me being closer with that person, or being able to work with them as effectively, etc.  My intention typically looks like me wanting to discuss what has gone on, and how it’s affecting me, to listen to the other person and be open to their feedback (yikes, this one is tough for sure), but ultimately, to share information so that our relationship can be stronger, more trusting and more authentic.  Overall, my intention is to make our relationship stronger, while staying in my own personal integrity and with who I am as a person, and my own personal values.

If you are feeling like you want to have a courageous conversation with someone in your life, being clear on your intention is absolutely the starting point.  Spend some quiet time reflecting on what you truly want to achieve.  Be gentle with yourself if you aren’t able to come to a definite objective immediately.  This may be an issue that has been brewing for a long period of time and there may be some hurt feelings that you need to work through.  Pat yourself on the back for being willing to work on your relationships and not bury your feelings.  I can't promise that it won't be hard, but in my experience, it has always been worth it.  Stay tuned for my next article detailing the next steps on how to have a courageous conversation...