In June 2020, a series of webinars were delivered by Semann&Slattery to support NSW early childhood educators and staff to manage challenging conversations. This webinar includes:
- ways you can manage difficult conversations with families and carers
- how you can build your confidence by developing the skills and capabilities needed to engage in challenging conversations
- how to approach conversations with respect and empathy.
This video resource supports many of the quality areas of the National Quality Standard, and particularly supports the practices underpinning:
- Quality Area 4 (Staffing arrangements)
- Quality Area 6 (Collaborative partnerships with families and communities)
- Quality Area 7 (Governance and Leadership).
Welcome to this online resource funded by the NSW Department of Education for early childhood teachers and educators working in early childhood programs across New South Wales. In this online resource, we'll be exploring the topic of how to manage challenging conversations.
We know that managing challenging conversations is no longer just a good idea. Inevitably, we'll find ourselves in a situation where we'll need to work through some challenging ideas, challenging practices and perhaps some challenging ways in which we have communicated with people so to find a resolution. We know if we don't address these issues, things can happen. We become consumed by them, creativity is sapped, the morale of the team can come crashing down, but, if we deal with them, the opposite happens. We come to a resolution, we resolve the conflict, and we can find ourselves at peace with ourselves, our colleagues, families and other community members.
So, you might be asking yourself, why do these situations happen? Well, they happen for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we know that we have spent so much time becoming us. If you were to times your years, by the hours, by the minutes that you've been alive, you'll notice that this could come into the millions. And as such, our values become so clear to us. We've been practicing us for so long that the way in which we live our lives is normal. Now, inevitably, we will come in contact with people such as families or colleagues who also hold values as truth.
And whilst no one aims to go out there and cause an issue between themselves and others, when there is a clash of values inevitably communication may slip. The other thing that may lend itself to a challenging conversation is that we do hold truths in our lives. They are the things that we know we value, we live by them. It's called integrity.
The other thing is communication. Everybody tries the best they can to communicate with others. But, from time to time, there are things that get in the way. For example, we become so passionate about something, and whilst passion isn't a problem, passion can become a problem. Any of our strengths played too much can become our dark side. So whilst we want you all to be passionate about things, becoming too passionate means there is no other way. No other way to think, no other way to be, no other way to practice. Whilst we must remain passionate, we must also believe that others may not think like us and we remain open.
Here's another thing that might lend itself to why we find ourselves in a challenging conversation. One thing that we know is we like to be right. It's not a bad thing. Wanting to be right means living by your values and integrity, the policies and the procedures, and the values of the organisation.
However, there is a problem here.
I don't know about you, but when I was growing up, I used to watch The Road Runner. This very famous children's cartoon was framed around the idea of one character, the coyote, chasing another character, the roadrunner. And we noticed in many of those episodes, the roadrunner runs off the cliff, but continues to run. I remember as a child asking myself, how does it continue to run when there's no solid ground below it? Well, here's the thing, wrong feels so right. We can be wrong about many things in life but it feels so right to us. But eventually the roadrunner did look down, noticed there was no solid ground and came crashing. I invite you to think about how your values frame your worldview. How you've dealt with a clash of values before, what has worked, what hasn't worked. And how would you know if you're wrong, if in fact, it feels so right.
For many of us, when we begin to frame our thinking around having these challenging conversations, we begin to think about a couple of things. Firstly, how should we communicate with that person? What does effective communication actually look like? You know, there's a saying that many of us have heard which is, “talk to people the way you like to be spoken to”. Can I invite you to let go of that, because it doesn't actually work. I want you to think about the way you like to be spoken to. I'll give you an example. I'm a straight shooter and I don't want anybody to have to sandwich any information for me, that is, say something positive, tell me what you want to actually tell me and end with something positive.
It doesn't work for me.
Now for some people, they would like you to take them on a journey of communication. So, if I were to talk to people the way that I like to be spoken to, I can tell you that it may not end very nicely. Instead of speaking to people the way you like to be spoken to, I invite you to speak to people the way they like to be spoken to. And therefore having a great relationship with children, families, colleagues and other professionals means we get to know how they like to be spoken to and we tailor our communication to that.
Now, there's a couple of things that can happen when we find ourselves in a challenging situation. We can avoid it. When we avoid it, we sit back and we hope it will just go away. We think that come tomorrow the issue will be gone. Can I unfortunately suggest to you that won't be the case. It'll just fester, and in fact, it may actually get worse. So, avoiding a challenging situation is not an option for us. We want to reconcile it, we want to productively move through it. The other thing we can do is we can attack. And whilst we are not bad people, often our wanting to attack and the way in which we communicate which comes across as attacking can be because one, we're very passionate, or we're actually fearful. And I'll be talking about this a bit later on. But, there is this saying, 'How do you position yourself to be heard?'
All communication is a dance, and language is meant to be creative. And we want to communicate in a way where people hear us. Unfortunately, when we go in unconsciously and attack people, they shut down, they stop listening, and a positive outcome is no longer an option. The other thing we can do is preach, and preaching doesn't help.
It doesn't open up a space for the other person to share with us what they think, how they feel, to let us into their story. Preaching is a monologue. We are just talking at people and expecting them to change and that doesn't work.
Effective communication allows others to share their thinking, their ideas, particularly when there is a challenging situation. And finally, the other thing we might do is gossip. Now, gossiping is not necessarily the best way to resolve an issue. This is not to say that you can't spend time talking to a colleague canvassing options of how you might raise this issue with someone else - practicing. But there's a difference between having this conversation and practicing with one colleague, as opposed to sharing that with two, three or more colleagues. You run the risk of this becoming gossip. So, we know it's always useful to perhaps run some ideas, particularly when you're feeling nervous, past someone.
But, as professionals, we ask the other person to hold that in confidence, not to share it with others. Because we want to be able to approach a challenging conversation with the person we need to talk to about this with the comfort knowing that we haven't spoken about them to others. So, do you fall into any of these challenges? Because if so, we need to become conscious about this. We're not going to get it perfectly right the first time. That beautiful quote by Carla Rinaldi that says, 'We're perfectly imperfect as human beings' is so true. But, given that we are all under construction, we continue to work to improve the way we have these conversations with people. And it is through practice, we become better.
Now, many people wait too long before they have a conversation. Why is that? Because they lack confidence. I turn to the work of Russ Harris now who says, 'Confidence is never ever built through thinking, it is only ever built through doing'. And for many of us, we wait until we feel confident before we have these challenging conversations with people. Can I invite you to think about this? If Russ Harris was onto something where he suggested thinking never leads to confidence, doing does, then we need to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. We need to feel comfortable having these conversations again and again, and inducing a level of reflexivity into the conversation so we can look back and say, how might I improve this next time? Believe me, the more of these conversations you have, the more you practice them, the easier they will become. They're not going to be perfect, but, at least you're trying and that's what matters.
So, here's the challenge.
Do we avoid, or do we confront? Let me just chat about these two. If we avoid resolving issues that happen around us in our professional lives, a couple of things can take place. One, our feelings will fester. Whatever you're feeling, if it's a negative feeling will remain. Because we haven't leant into the discomfort to deal with this. We've made no attempt to resolve the issue at hand. The other thing that can happen if we avoid is we can feel that we've been taken advantage of. And unfortunately, when we feel like we've been taken advantage of it actually creates a bigger wedge between you and the other person.
And finally, if we avoid the situation, we rob the other person of the opportunity to actually resolve the issue. We rob the other person of the opportunity to share with us what happened. What happened from their perspective? See, we live in a complex world where we all experience things differently and sometimes people make mistakes. And we need to be able to create space for dialogue where the other person shares with us what happened from their perspective. Now, I'd love to suggest to you that if you move from avoid to confronting the issue, that all will be well. But that isn't always the case. Unfortunately, sometimes when we confront the issue, secondary issues may actually arise. Now, here's the thing, we don't want to avoid it. And I don't want you to think that every time you go into one of these challenging conversations, it will resolve itself immediately.
But I do want to suggest something to you, and that is, if you choose to lean into those conversations, what we can do is become more ethical and more productive in our relationships with people. Left unresolved issues actually remain, but, all you can do is control what you say, try to control what you think, but you can never control how the other person responds. So, we rise to the challenge as early childhood professionals, and we dive deep into the challenging conversation with a particular ethic of respect, social justice. And when we do this, this is one step forward in ensuring that productive relationships that from time to time are challenged continue to become productive well into the future.
For many people, including myself, and perhaps you, having these challenging conversations is a bit of a nuisance. It's a bit of like a cold, no one wants a cold. No one invites a cold into their lives, but we do get them. And sometimes there's no cure. However, there are a couple of things that we need to hold tightly when we're thinking about having to deal with these conversations. That is, effective communication, communication that is fair and just is the building block of great relationships. The other thing, we go in with particular intentions in mind, and that is the intention to resolve this, and that we don't have to be corrective heroes. The solution does not always lie with us. In an effective communication between you and others, particularly when there's a challenging situation, we can become creative. We can allow the other person to share their resolution, their ideas with us.
So, with this in mind, allow me to share some ideas with you. And these are some of the challenges that we need to be aware of.
Number one, mind the say-do gap. What is this? We have to actually live the values that we espouse and the values that we declare to people. We often declare our hand to families and colleagues through the organisational philosophy that may talk about social justice, that we value a diversity of ideas, and that families come in all shapes and sizes, and it is the diversity of families that makes our world rich. So if we espouse this, if this is on the walls, if this is framed in a value on the wall, or in our room or on the front door. If it's in your policy book, then we need to make sure there isn't a gap between what we say and what we do.
Secondly, make the complex simple. There's a lot of emotions that are running high when we find ourselves in a challenging situation. And as professionals, we don't want to lock people out of being able to communicate with us. As such great communicators know how to distil some very complex ideas into simple ways of communicating. This is not to say, shelf your professional thinking. This is to say, know the other person. If we are, for example, trying to have a challenging conversation and managing this with a family, we don't want to use jargon that locks that family out. We want to be ethical. Therefore, we'll communicate in a way so the other parent can enter the conversation.
Thirdly, find your voice. What do we mean by that? The world values real. The world listens to real, and the world wants you to be real. It was Amanda Sinclair, the Victorian based author of the book, Leadership for the Disillusioned who said this, 'Take off your armour and let the world see you'. She said too often we walk around with armour put onto our bodies and we disguise who we really are. You need to find your voice. For example, if you are entering a conversation and you feel nervous, it is absolutely okay to tell the other person that you're nervous. For example, 'Hey Jenny, can I have a chat with you? I noticed yesterday during the staff meeting, that there was a moment in time where you rolled your eyes at me. Now, I'm not here to blame, I'm not here to hold you accountable, I just want to talk about that. Perhaps I said something that upset you. But I want you to know, I'm really nervous so I might stumble through this. This may not come out as clearly as I would hope it to be. It's just that I find these conversations really unsettling. But our relationship is too important for me to leave this unattended'.
Be you, because if you pretend to be somebody else, that weight you have to carry becomes unbearable. There is no one voice, no one way to have a conversation like this. But, the best way is to be true and honest with who you are. And finally, listen with your eyes as much as you listen with your ears.
Now you probably know what I'm about to say here. There is more to communication than what a person is saying. We need to stay attuned to how they're behaving. And because we are ethical as early childhood professionals, we need to watch how that person is moving their body assuming how they're feeling, because in a difficult conversation, if you notice the other person is finding it challenging to stay present, then we need to give them space, space for a breather.
You might turn to the other person and say,
'It looks like this conversation has sparked something in you because it's also sparking something in me'. 'Shall we take a break?' 'Can I get you a cup of tea?' 'Is this a good time to talk about this?'
See, this is not about catching anybody out. This is about creating a space for dialogue. And when we listen with our eyes, we notice how the other person is behaving and we notice if we need to give them a break. We also listen to our own emotions, because we might become intense ourselves, the tone of our voice may be changing. And that's when we become really honest with the other person and say,
'I think I might need a little break as well'. 'Is it okay, if I have a break for five minutes and grab a cuppa?' 'Would you like me to grab you one?'
Remember, challenging conversations are a normal part of life. And whilst I'd like to say you're only going to have to have one in your lifetime, you probably know that sometimes you have to have one every week. I'm going to suggest to you that the challenge at hand is not in what you say, it's in what you think. And all challenging conversations actually share the same structure. If we can decode each part of a challenging conversation, know the challenges that are inherent in each part of those challenging conversations, then we can get one step closer to resolving this, then another step closer in having these conversations in a productive way.
So what I'm going to share with you are the three common parts of any challenging conversation. At the end, I'm going to ask you to think about which one might you slip into? Which one of these do you find actually challenging?
The first one, this is the conversation called the ‘what happened’ conversation. In the ‘what happened’ conversation, the focus of the conversation is to find out who's right and who's wrong. And we think we can get there by figuring out what happened. Well there's a couple of problems here. It works on the assumption that firstly, we're right and they're wrong. And then our goal is to highlight that to them. But what if you are wrong? How might you know that? The other problem with the ‘what happened’ conversation is, there's usually blame. Okay, let's move to the next one. And I'm going to come to each one of these and explain them in further detail.
The next one is the ‘feelings’ conversation. Now, whether we like it or not, feelings always leak into these conversations. Whether we want someone to express how they feel or not, they will become evident. And we need to figure out how to have conversations where feelings are a part of this without telling the other person how they should feel.
And finally, there's the ‘identity’ conversation. This is the conversation that you are having with yourself about you having a challenging conversation. Now, the way we talk to ourselves prior to and during a challenging conversation can lead to one of two things. Firstly, we can feel at ease, comfortable, and confident, if we are telling ourselves a particular story or we can be anxious, off-centre, and this may not lead to the resolution we hope it would. So, let me explain each one of these in greater detail.
So, the ‘what happened’ conversation. There are three parts of this that we need to unpack. First, the truth assumption. As I said earlier on, there is a truth here that goes untested, that is, I'm right and they're wrong, and that it isn't always the case. Let's think about this. Challenging conversations are never about who's right and who's wrong. They are about a clash of values, a clash of perception. It's not about who's right and who's wrong, but what is right or wrong from our perspective. And given that we all have different values, then we come to appreciate the complexity in trying to find out what happened as a fact. And the problem with that, is that there'll be someone who exits the conversation, who feels like they're wrong. And that's not the goal. We only change when we know someone values us, listens to us, and appreciates that sometimes good people make bad mistakes. Okay, the next part, the blame frame. Again, in this blame frame, the sole purpose of the ‘what happened’ conversation is to blame someone. And we know that's not what we're intending to do. Blame leaves a system that needs improving unattended to. When blame is the focus, then what happens is people will hide the truth from their perspective. See, in a strong culture of accountability, blame is never the goal. In a strong culture of accountability, we want people to step up and say the truth from their perspective. But, if blame is the focus, and then people feel like they'll have to hide what happened rather than own what happened. Now, the third and final part of the ‘what happened’ conversation is the ‘intention invention’.
Let me tell you a bit about the intention invention. We make up stories about why we think someone did something. We make up a story about the intention of someone. For example, 'They meant to do this because they knew what would upset me'. Or 'They knew they shouldn't have done that'. The problem with the intention invention is just that we make up intentions about people's behaviour. And the reality is, you never know someone's intention. So, put that aside. Let's not spend time looking for the ‘what happened’, the blame frame, or the intention invention, the what happened conversation is never helpful.
Okay, let's move to the next one. The next one is the ‘feelings’ conversation, what I call an opera without music. Whether we like it or not feelings are always going to be part of these conversations and we need to learn to become better at having these conversations about feelings, staying connected with someone. Now, we always tell children, they have to become the bosses of their own feelings and this is the same for adults. We have no right to tell someone how to feel, or to put their feelings aside. You know, I often hear people say things like, well, they just need to toughen up, or they have to get over it. Remember, you're not the boss of anybody else's feelings. So, when feelings do leak into these conversations, we need to feel strong enough to deal with them. If somebody is upset, you work with that person, you stay connected to that person, you do all you can to comfort them.
You might even put the issue at hand aside as you attend to that person's feelings and say, 'Hey Jacob, it looks like this may have upset you, can I do something?' Or, 'It feels like right now our feelings are really running high, is this a good time for us to actually have a break?' See, we want to make the other person feel valued. This is important. Even if there is a clash at hand, we must always value the other person.
Okay, let's deal with the last one, the ‘identity’ conversation. Remember, this is the conversation you are having with yourself about you having the conversation. Now for many of us, these conversations, managing these challenging conversations, we don't like them and we don't want them. And we feel uncomfortable about having them. But just because it's uncomfortable doesn't mean we avoid them. Now the identity conversation is the story you're having with yourself and you can say things like this which will not be helpful. Well, this conversation is going to be a disaster, we won't be able to resolve it, they're just going to yell, I'm going to feel like I've been used and it will never resolve itself. Now, if this is the story you are telling yourself about this conversation, I can guarantee even with good intentions, this conversation will be really difficult.
Now, you can have another conversation with yourself, one that is enabling, one that is productive. Imagine the identity conversation went something like this, yes, this is a challenging conversation, but it's a necessary conversation. I need to have this so my relationship with that person and their relationship with me can be resolved. Yes, there are going to be feelings that are going to be shared and some of them may be hard to hear. But that's okay, because we all respond differently. And I may not come across perfectly in this conversation, but that's alright. Perfection is not the goal, understanding is. And I know that it may feel uncomfortable, but that's because we both care for each other. Ask yourself, what kind of story do you have with yourself about you having a conversation with someone?
The ‘identity’ conversation, the ‘feelings’ conversation, and the ‘what happened’ conversation, give us insight into what could go wrong. I invite you to think more deeply, to reflect, which one of these do you fall a victim to? Which one are you sometimes trapped into? Once we can decode these three conversations, then we can actually move more productively forward. So ask yourself, what might I do to address the ‘what happened’ conversation? Maybe I have to let go of who's right or who's wrong. The feelings conversation, feelings are a part of life. And if they share their feelings, and it might be uncomfortable for me to hear, they still have a right to feel like that.
The identity conversation, I'm going to tell myself a story that this conversation is important to have, no matter how I feel, it is actually okay. So, in thinking about these, let's move on to the next part of how we manage these challenging conversations. So in having these conversations, we need to shift our frame of mind and our mindset. We want to move away from telling people the telling conversation, to a learning conversation. Why's that? You know there's this fabulous saying from cultural studies from an author called Remen, spelt R-E-M-E-N who says this, 'when we think we know, we fall asleep.' Too often we think we know what has happened. We think we know the other person, and we go in there just to tell them what we think. This is not productive, it's not equitable, and actually, it doesn't allow us to be creative.
When we move to a learning conversation, we want to hear the other person's story. We want to be able to share each and every one of us how we feel. We also actually want to share the best way forward. We can become creative and create a space where each person can share what they think needs to be done to move forward. So, we need to stop arguing about who's right and who's wrong, and we need to actually start listening and learning.
When we go into a learning conversation we are open. We are open to change, we are open to listening. Eulalia Bosch, a famous philosopher said this, 'How quickly we forget that in order to talk, we first have to learn to listen'. So it's never about arguing who's right and who's wrong. I want to invite you to think about exploring the story, exploring the other person's story, and allowing them to hear your perspective, your story. Arguing blocks us from change. And when we argue, we can just find ourselves in an echo chamber. Even though the person is in front of us, they would have switched off. So how do we hear the other person's story. First and foremost, we have to be curious, curious about the other person, what they experienced, hear what happened from their perspective. Remember, this is not about right and wrong. If that's the focus, there'll be a winner and a loser. And see people will only open up and change if they feel respected. And of course, we will own our stories. And in due course, we'll invite the other person to hear our perspective. So we move into a learning conversation because in this, we become more ethical, more curious, and more willing not to expect the other person to change, but to change our perspective, and perhaps, our behaviour. The reality is we all see the world differently. We observe things, we notice things, we take them in. And we take in different things. There's lots of things that happen in the world that I miss. There's lots of things even in a conversation that I miss. And so once we've taken them in, then we interpret them. We interpret what I've noticed and what I've heard means to me, and then we respond. And in each of these steps, there is an opportunity for our stories, our interpretations to actually diverge. And so in thinking about that, we need to understand that although we may see the world differently, it doesn't mean one person is right or wrong, it just means sometimes critical facts are missing.
And hence why telling your story and allowing the other person to share their stories can bring us together rather than keep us apart.
So move from certainty to curiosity. Curiosity keeps us awake, keeps us knowledgeable, and actually says, I'm interested in you as a person. Shelf your ego for a bit, shelf the ‘I'm right and they're wrong’.
Because the reality is we can take a more liberating position, one that says, maybe I'm a little bit right and you're a little bit right. Maybe I'm a little bit wrong, and you're a little bit wrong. I think that's more of a liberating position, and perhaps probably more realistic. Get curious about the other person, be honest and listen to them, and get curious about yourself. What is your story? When I ask you to think about your story, I'm asking you to think about what you do really well in a challenging conversation and perhaps some of the things you don't do really well. For example, do you get trapped by your ego? Do you stop actually really listening to the person and just hear them? These are really wonderful opportunities for us to bridge the gap between us and other people.
You know, sometimes these challenging situations can actually strengthen our relationships, but it's how we handle them that makes the difference. And we must always own our part in the conversation. For example, say perhaps you were sitting in a staff meeting and there was a conversation based on one of the agenda items, and it struck a chord in you. You didn't feel comfortable with what was said and you rolled your eyes. Can I suggest even if nobody caught you out, you need to own that part. Strong people know when to say sorry, they know when to own their part in any conversation. So I would urge you, because we don't want to avoid the situation that you felt uncomfortable with it. So I would urge you to go up to your supervisor be it the room leader or the nominated supervisor, or the educational leader, or perhaps it was even a colleague that you rolled your eyes to. To go up to them and say, ‘I found a part of that staff meeting quite challenging, and I don't want to dismiss how I felt, because I want to be part of the team. But I also don't want to dismiss the fact that I want to resolve this in a productive way as opposed to an unproductive way. Therefore, I want to have a chat to you about it. I feel like I need more convincing, more information’.
See, the thing in life is we often wait to be caught out before we apologise. We wait to be caught out before we resolve the situation. You don't need to do that. When you know something doesn't feel right for you, own it, deal with it, don't wait for it to blow up and become a bigger issue. If you know that perhaps somewhere in a conversation with someone, something didn't go the way you want it to go, then we deal with it. Now, I know, for me, when I started having these challenging conversations, some of my challenges is I would have two conversations in my head at the same time. One, the disaster story, like I shared earlier on. The conversation I'm having with me about me having the conversation, this will be a disaster, this ain't going to work well. And so what I learnt was, in wanting to share my story, who I am, and to be true to myself, I would declare my hand about what some of the challenging parts of this relationship was.
So for example, imagine after a period of absence due to COVID-19, a family and a child returned to your program, and you noted that that child found it very hard to settle in. And as a result of this, some disorganised behaviour became evident in the child's play and interactions, not just with children, but with the staff, and there are some things that are concerning you. My advice based on what I learnt was, if I don't resolve the worries I have about having this conversation with this family, I'll be thinking about this while I'm trying to talk about the issue at hand. Therefore, trying to be ethical and professional, but also creating a mental space for me to be able to have this conversation. I would always start the conversation with that family by telling them what I'm concerned about.
So it might go something like this, ‘I might be concerned that they think we don't care, that we've given up, that the child's not welcome, that we think they're a bad parent, or that the problem is purely theirs to deal with. Now, if we don't want them to think that, then we need to put that on the table.’
So the conversation might go something like this, 'Hey Mary, thanks for coming to have this conversation with me. I might sound like my voice is crackling 'cause I feel a little bit nervous. But before I have this conversation in detail, can I just tell you I value you coming to this meeting. I want you to know that we just absolutely enjoy having your child here, he has such spirit, that he's just brings light to this room. I also want you to know that I think you're a great parent, because parenting can be really challenging. So I don't want you to think that while I discuss these challenges with you, I'm expecting you to deal with this on your own. I think together, we are more powerful. And I, please, I don't want you to think that I'm judging you, and if at any time I come across like I am judging, please hold me accountable, that is your right. But last week, and today, I've noticed particular things in your child's behaviour and I think it's really important that I raise this with you and both of us can work together to deal with this'.
See, what I'm doing in the initial stages is putting that other conversation, the ‘identity’ conversation on the table, which then means I can focus on having the real conversation at hand. So if we think back to the concepts around people's intentions, I just want to share something with you. Good intentions don't amend bad impact. What do I mean by this?
Sometimes we have really good intentions like I don't intend to upset you, I don't intend to leave a piece on you during a conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable or awkward, or like you're to be blamed. But just because I have good intentions, it doesn't mean there isn't a bad impact. And see, often people go, ‘well, I didn't intend to, so they should get over it’, or ‘I didn't intend to, they need to move forward’. Good intentions don't amend bad impact. And even if we have good intentions, some people are hurt, some people might find this conversation really challenging. And whilst we might be ready to move forward, they may not. So keep your intentions at the centre of all communication.
Because hey, like me, sometimes we slip up in our intentions. Like we go into a conversation intending to tell the person they broke the policy rather than learning their story. Intending to tell them how to behave rather than me understanding why they behave the way they did. Our intentions sometimes divide us. And always check your intentions before you have a conversation with that person, because you want to be the best version of you in any challenging conversation.
So, in a nutshell here, here are some things we want to keep in mind.
Learn the other person's story. Their story is so powerful and your story about a situation is as well. Be empathetic. Empathy is the thing that connects us together and actually means we can work beyond the current situation to stay connected and resolve the problem together. Stephen Covey reminded us of this. 'We listen to understand, we don't listen to respond'. Understanding somebody is the first step in having and dealing with and resolving a challenging situation. When I am listening to understand you, I am moving one step closer towards you. But if we are only listening to respond, then while you are talking to me, I'm actually talking to myself about what I should say to you in response to what you're saying. So I move from listening to hearing, and we don't want that. We want to create a place where in a challenging conversation everybody feels valued. So empathy is a journey, it's not a destination. We want to move into a situation where I see you from the outside, what you're saying, how you're behaving, to understanding you from the inside, how you're feeling, with all your world experience with how you are feeling. See, having these challenging conversations are a part of life. But we want to make sure that as the result of this, we come out together, feeling better, and learning that despite our differences, we can be stronger.
I want to turn to the philosopher now, Friedrich Nietzsche. Friedrich Nietzsche came up with the concept of active forgetfulness. He said, sometimes in life to move forward, we need to learn to forget.' Active forgetfulness is productive, it's generative, it's actually healing. And he said, 'sometimes we don't forget things therefore we can't move forward'. I've heard many people say, I will forgive but I won't forget. Daniel Libeskind, the great architect would call that self-induced poison. Nietzsche said, 'Sometimes we have to forget in order to heal'. Let's look at young children for a moment. You know, there are moments within our days working with young children where there are arguments amongst children. They might be fighting over the spade in the sandpit, a piece of clay or who should sit where. And we choose a strategy to work with these children alongside them, or with them to resolve the situation. And I can guarantee five minutes later, these children have moved on. They have forgotten that situation at hand and the relationship and the issue is resolved. How often and how many people have you bumped into in life, had a challenge within life but have never forgotten that situation. Nietzsche would say, 'It's not resolved, unless you forget it'. So, at the end of a challenging conversation, it might be helpful to think about Nietzsche's active forgetfulness. That in fact, if I want to move forward, what I need to do is learn to forget that there was a mistake between you and I, because this will heal us.
So in this online resource, we've discussed that challenging conversations are a part of life. We don't love them, but they happen. We've discussed why they take place, we communicate differently, we engage with situations differently. Some of us want to avoid them, some of us want to talk about them straightaway. But we learnt that we need to communicate with people the way they want to be spoken to, not the way we like to be spoken to. We also learnt that there are inherently three challenges in any conversation. Sometimes we are looking for right or wrong, sometimes we don't like to talk about feelings and actually sometimes we talk to ourselves in ways that don't help us. The ‘what happened’ conversation, the ‘feelings’ conversation and the ‘identity’ conversation. We've also discussed that the best way to resolve these challenging situations and to have these conversations is to learn the other person's story. To put aside any intention invention, any someone's right, someone's wrong, and to explore ethically, the other person's story. We learnt that we can resolve the problem together, the world does not need another corrective hero, because the story allows us into the other person's story and our story will allow them into our story. And we might realise there was just a mistake and a misunderstanding. We also learnt that dealing with these challenging situations, these challenging conversations can make us stronger, as a team, or as a community. And finally, I invited you to engage in active forgetfulness.
Sometimes to move forward, we need to put aside our differences and actually look for the similarities between me, you, and others.
I want to thank you for listening to me, and I hope you too have taken away some gold standards in how we have these conversations.
Remember, the more you do them, the more you have them, the easier they become.