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How to Have Difficult Conversations

The previous read, How to Get Along with Parents, inspired me to write this one. Writing it made me realize that because of the way a lot of us were raised we never had difficult conversations. They were brushed off or avoided in the name of “being disrespectful.” In turn making it hard to have difficult conversations with others around us when we’re presented with them, it instead becomes a trigger. Difficult conversations can be a range of things depending on the person but most include accountability conversations (addressing trauma, wrongdoing, etc.), conversations on different perspectives and intimate/vulnerable conversations with loved ones. Think of the world as a huge puzzle and the humans are the puzzle pieces. In a puzzle, not all pieces are meant to connect with each other but when the right pieces are connected, the picture starts to become clearer. What happens when the puzzle pieces decide to argue over power? They miss the message of togetherness as the goal and the true meaning and purpose of their existence is lost.

Humans are social beings; we need to interact with one another in order to effectively survive and thrive in the everyday world. Did you know that we retain most of the things we learn by practice? (see figure) With that being said, if the way we interact with each other isn’t effective when it matters most, it can also become hard to learn anything new or open up new pathways in life – metaphorically and metaphysically – and this is why having difficult conversations are important. We attach our opinions to the identity of who we are when an opinion is just a thought and thoughts can be changed. We think that this is a way to stay true to self, to be sure you “always remain the same” but truth is this mindset in itself can stunt true growth. We let the ego’s need to feel safe and at ease trick us into thinking the world has to agree with us; when in reality conflict is just an invitation for possible change. There are about 7.9 billon people in this world; you are a fool to think that we can continue to survive using ANY of the categorical boxes made to mentally entrap you. There are too many of us to fit into “groups” and it’s just highly unlikely that everyone is going to agree on most things – too many complexities - but this is a good thing. There’s a role for everybody but unless we can communicate through them, it can be useless. In efforts to change this, here’s my take on what should be considered when entering difficult conversations with our peers and loved ones.

Conversation is Not Always Confrontation

Have conversations for conversation’s sake. In How to be Yourself Authentically, I discuss a lot about how you are not your mind. Meaning also that your opinions should be noted but not attached to your identity; any opinion in itself can always be up for change. When you attach who you are to these opinions, you will find it hard to have difficult conversations because any degree of disagreement on these opinions will seem like an attack on your identity – when in fact it is not. You will find yourself in defense mode, defending your opinion (or your-self), when no one was actually playing the offense at all. It was only conversation.

Action Step #1: Be open to multiple perspectives. Everyone lives in their own reality. What's true to you may not be true to someone else.

Society has taught us to be very logical thinkers – if this, then that. This has majority of the collective habitually thinking very linearly. Linear thinking isn't open to multiple perspectives, it is agree or disagree, black or white. To open up to multiple perspective thinking is to see the nuances in life and the shades gray it brings. It is to see the world outside of your own lens, knowing that other opinions are valid just as much as your own. Just because you don't agree, does not mean that your point of view is more right or more important. It just means you can see all your points of view but unable to see someone else's. Change your perspective from defense to openness.

One’s current perspective is only a result of their experiences. Therefore, the conclusions and opinions they result to are very much true in their life. Now, don’t get me wrong some people do have opinions that are insane but some people also endured lives that were insane. Forgive them early, or don’t talk to them at all if you find you won’t have the patience. If you wish to talk them through to clarity – which is a very difficult conversation – you have to start by trying to understand. If you start off with defense instead of openness, telling them how they're wrong etc. you can then cause them to be in defense mode as well and then you’ll have confrontation, not conversation. If you start off with openness, you create an atmosphere for both parties to elaborate on their opinions and experiences. One can feel willing to lower the wall and share what they know or how they feel about a certain topic in an attempt for you to understand where they’re coming from. Remember, I said a person’s current perspective is only a result of their experiences, which means the opinions you have are also just a result of your own personal experience. So, a person with a different opinion has a different experience. The only way you can be aware of those other experiences are to successfully have these conversations and connect the puzzle pieces. True wisdom is gained this way, through connecting your own puzzle pieces instead of regurgitating an already put together puzzle that someone else gave you.

Listen to Listen, Then to Respond

Your perspective on life is solely what you pay attention to. It's like when you buy a new car and all of a sudden, every time you're driving you only see that car. It's not that all of a sudden more people have that particular car, at first you had no eye for the car therefore didn't “see” it but once you got it, your attention for it heightened, therefore you saw it much more. At a minimal level, this is what happens when you enter a difficult conversation in defense mode. You start to only listen for parts in a response that you can pick apart to support your point, missing the parts that could've deescalated the argument because you already entered ready to defend. In comparison to when you enter a conversation with openness, where you are ready to hear all parts of the argument, not only what you are looking to hear. This is what it truly means to listen to listen, not to respond. When you start having conversations for conversation’s sake, with an open mind, you start to hear more, understand more about yourself and others. This is where practice and interaction come in. A conversation includes two people, not just one. So, it's still just as important to respond then it is to listen, but listen first then allow that to guide your response. How you respond can be used as confirmation that you were listening or not.

Action Step #2: Never, ever make assumptions. Don't know what to say? Ask a question. Something they said rubbed you the wrong way? Ask a question.

Our parents always said never assume or you make an “ass out of u and me” and I couldn't have agreed with this one more. Things are not always what they seem and from what I’ve explained so far about understanding different perspectives I hope you can see why – even when they are something as literal as words coming out of a person’s mouth. Things, including words, can be misinterpreted so many ways. Once again, a person’s perspective is a result of their experiences. So, when we hear things, we can easily take them in, in the way that it resonates with us and our experience of those words making it very easy to misinterpret them for what that person didn't mean. Don't assume you understand everything, ask questions. It keeps the conversation going from a place of trying to understand. Communicate what you got from it so they can communicate what they mean, get used to practicing interaction. Moving and speaking your truth will start to become so habitual that openness runs through you and prepares you to fully maximize all of your future interactions and experiences.

The Most High Speaks to Us Through Us

Have you ever had a really good conversation with someone, or listened to someone, at the most perfect time, and known right then and there you were supposed to hear it? Like it was almost directed at you without it being said? This is where learning through interacting comes in. Conversations become “difficult” conversations because they trigger something within you and a trigger can be both a good or bad feeling. Something cannot trigger you if it doesn’t resonate with you in some way, this is one of the main reasons I say conflict is an invitation for change. For example, loved ones or ones who are the closest to you usually act as our mirrors. They mimic our behavior back to us; people only treat you how you allow yourself to be treated and how you allow yourself to be treated is a reflection of what you feel you deserve. So, when people interact with us be very conscious of what is being presented to you in a conversation. It can show and tell you way more about yourself then you'd imagine, pay attention.

Action step #3: Understand that when you ask God for answers he usually communicates through signs, symbols and people. The problem is we’re not paying attention.

Don’t miss the message being mad at the messenger. We have a habit of saying “this is bad vibes” or “the devil working today” when in all actuality that’s God still working. Any blessing you’ve ever asked for doesn’t come overnight, it comes with time. Usually because it requires some type of preparation of you so you will be able to recognize and appreciate the blessing when it comes. I want you to start using your conversations with people as a tool. Everything happens for a reason. Example, the day I dropped my first post I had a lady earlier in the day stop me to comment on a symbol that was on my shirt. She asked me what it meant, I explained it to her and she asked me if she could sit, I allowed it. I had somewhere to go at the moment but I have mastered the habit of being still when the universe is asking so I never rush, I stopped to talk to her. In this conversation she read me for filth, just by the symbol on my shirt. Long story very short, she explained to me all the knowledge I held in my head and my amazing ability to teach. She confirmed for me all the great things I knew about myself while also stating that my dreams weren’t coming into fruition as I’d like to because I put everyone else’s life in front of my own. She begged me and made me promise that I would do something with the knowledge I had because the generation needed me. I promised and here we are. I never knew this lady; she did not know me. A simple symbol on my shirt told her all she needed to know and had I not been able to appreciate difficult conversations I wouldn’t be writing to y’all today. Furthermore, that was nothing but God. Telling me all that I needed to hear through this women who was brave enough to approach me. This is life.

Final Thoughts

We are humans, we all make mistakes. Never allow anything or anyone in this lifetime allow you to lose your voice, though we may have very well never gained our way of effective communication. We learn the most from the greatest mishaps so never miss the opportunity to gain more knowledge because you’re in your feelings about it. We have to get back to accepting that it is okay to wrong. The greatest intellects know that not even they know everything because there is always more to learn, it’s one’s bravery to admit their ignorance that allows them to see the truth. This also means that you must drop judgment. You never know what you may do put in another person’s situation, you may not even have the heart to do so. So, to even talk about how you would’ve handled it doesn’t matter, don’t speak on other people situations. But if you must, have that difficult conversation with them about it.

Talk soon!