Public speaking coach and facilitator Zoya Mabuto explains how to have uncomfortable, yet constructive conversations.
There comes a time when you can’t avoid having that difficult conversation any longer. You may find yourself putting it off because just thinking about it makes you deeply uncomfortable. But getting comfortable with being uncomfortable can lead to transformative growth in all areas of our lives.
“I love this idea of moving beyond our comfort zone, because I have been privy to the kind of growth that can happen when we are being stretched and challenged,” Zoya says. She recalls a time just after leaving the corporate world when she started “Try Something New Thursdays” to disrupt herself. This helped her to deliberately push herself to do things that scared her and to try out things she was curious about.
“It pushed me from that space of the everyday, mundane routine which can become ‘comfortable’. It’s important that we do the work of pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones and it can happen in multiple ways. Trying out new things and deliberately saying yes when we might otherwise say no. It could also be a personal decision to challenge your own thinking about things – and this is the one that’s the most difficult, and I’ve seen people grapple with it. We get so caught up in our own assumptions, biases and perceptions of things that the most difficult work is to become comfortable with not having the answer,” she shares.
Instead, we should get comfortable about challenging ourselves about the things we hold to be true, even if that makes us uncomfortable. Zoya says she has witnessed the benefit of sitting with that discomfort because it allows you to be open to the possibility that there could be another way.
Make room for differences
“Organisational design practitioner Patrick Lencioni says that great relationships are built on the ability to argue, because when you recognise that, you’re saying: ‘I’m making room for a difference in perspective. I’m making room for diversity. I’m making room for somebody who will challenge my own thinking as I become a better thinker.’ I always joke that I really said yes to my husband after I realised that we had learned the art of arguing kindly. That we could call each other out without destroying the fabric of what we had built in the first place. That we were able to acknowledge that we were fundamentally different in some ways and that we need to make room for that difference.”
Zoya explains that it’s important to allow for disagreements in any relationship however, it should be done with kindness and as a way to let one another feel heard. “We’re different and anyone who thinks that the work of embracing difference in diversity is easy work is completely misguided, because for the most part we have to confront our own biases and perceptions and be willing to interrogate them and potentially frame issues in a different way. So, we should be having those conversations that are uncomfortable. It offers us opportunities to connect even more with each other. I’m really uncomfortable with a situation where we don’t allow room for dissent.”
Constructive conversations about uncomfortable topics
Things can turn nasty quickly when talking about uncomfortable topics – and this is part of the reason we are afraid of having certain conversations. “It can get to the point where what would have been a constructive conversation or can become destructive because we’re hell bent on holding onto our own ways of seeing things. That may play out with people attacking the individual instead of the actual issue. It shows up in the language that we use. With a bad attitude. We are so scared of that destructive conversation and we would rather pretend to be in harmony.”
Zoya offers the following advice:
1. Create a safe space
Constructive conversations do not just happen organically. They happen when people feel safe psychologically and socially. The right environment where you don’t feel threatened helps you to bring authenticity, honesty and vulnerability to the table. If you are going to have a difficult conversation with a friend instead of inviting them to your house (which might skew the power dynamic and make them put their guard up), rather go to a neutral space like a coffee shop. Mentally you also need to let go of the intent to have a winner and a loser. Instead, create safety by stepping into this with an intent to build understanding.
2. Call a spade a spade
Avoid euphemisms. If a person is late consistently, talk to the issue instead of skirting it: “I’ve noticed that you have come in every day at 9.10am when the agreement was that you should be here at 8:45am.” We want to be so polite that sometimes we’re euphemistic even when we don’t need to be. Call it what it is and then engage from that place.
3. Facts, not assumptions
When we’re angry or upset by something we tend to speak from a place of our assumptions. For instance, you come home and your husband is looking down at his phone as you’re greeting him. He doesn’t look up. You can reach the conclusion that he is upset with you and engage with him from that assumption. Instead, consider the following: “Love, I noticed that as I came in you were looking down and when I greeted you, you also didn’t look up. What was happening there?” Engage from fact, not assumptions that you have created from what you’ve observed.
4. Ask questions
Questions are great when having difficult conversations because they can help to clarify things. Step in with curiosity versus the need to be right.
Clearly, these are skills that can be difficult – they will take time and practice to master, but it will be worth it.
Author: Leanne Feris