Two men sitting on railroad tracks talking

If ever there was a time for brave conversations, it is now. With all that’s happening in this country and the world, we can’t afford to shirk our responsibility for having brave conversations. At the same time, brave conversations take courage. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. We don’t always know what we need to say. And frankly, they didn’t teach us how to have brave conversations in school. Luckily, the basics of brave conversations are all learnable skills.

What is a brave conversation? We’ve identified five ingredients:

1. Deep listening

So often, we pretend to be listening when what we’re really doing is formulating what we want to say in response. Deep listening requires our full attention. We need to be fully present to the speaker. When we are deeply listening, our body is attentive. We listen not only with our ears, but also with our eyes, and with our subtle senses. We notice body language and vocal inflections. We are not formulating our response. We may take a moment after the speaker is finished to summarize or reflect back what they’ve said. And then we take a moment to decide how we want to respond before we start speaking. 

2. Generative questions

Generative questions are questions you ask from a place of true curiosity. They will help you to find new ideas for creating change. They open up possibilities. In contrast, leading questions shut down possibilities. An example of a leading question is, “Don’t you think you should have…”. Generative questions require humility on the part of the person asking them. You have to be open to the possibility that your idea may not be the best idea. Some examples of generative questions include: “What needs our immediate attention right now?” “What question, if answered now, would help move this project forward?”, “What’s emerging for you?” and “What would it take to change this situation for the positive?”

3. Clear, thoughtful feedback

There is both and art and a science to giving clear, thoughtful feedback. The science is simple: use a feedback frame to help guide the conversation, and be sure to deliver the feedback in a timely manner. Timely means within hours or days, not weeks, of the event that requires feedback. And be sure to deliver positive feedback as well as negative feedback. The art is more subtle. It’s mostly about deep listening. You’ll want to pay attention to the receiver’s body language. Feedback does no good if the receiver isn’t able to hear it and take it in.  

4. Emotional Intelligence

Specifically, the self-management aspect of EQ. The biggest thing that trips up brave conversations is when people get triggered. When you learn how to effectively manage your emotions, you’re much less likely to get triggered. You’ll also be better equipped to handle any emotional reactions from the person you’re talking with. 

5. Make no assumptions

They are important, yet often overlooked. So many misunderstandings occur because someone makes an assumption that simply isn’t true. There’s an old adage that says, “When you assume, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” When you can approach a difficult situation with humility and curiosity, you can avoid making assumptions. The other reason misunderstandings happen is because the person making the request didn’t clearly and explicitly explain what they wanted. If the person on the receiving end of the request didn’t clearly understand the request, they’ll be unlikely to succeed. As Brene’ Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

We hope these will help you have more brave conversations. Please take a moment to reflect on which of these five aspects you do well, and which you struggle with. Post in the comments for support!

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About The Author

Johanna Lyman's picture

Johanna Lyman (she/her or they/them) is the Principal Consultant and Practice Leader for Culture and Inclusion at Kadabra. She is a dynamic, energetic Leadership and Culture coach and consultant with nearly 30 years of experience of leadership development and culture change.

She is adept at combining coaching, training, and facilitation to help clients build sustainably profitable businesses while creating deep meaning in their work. She quickly establishes rapport and creates a container of psychological safety, belonging, and deep trust with her clients and their teams. She believes that inclusion and diversity should be seen as the natural outcomes of building great cultures.

Johanna is wife to the best husband on the planet, mother to an adult daughter, and dog-mom to Petey the Amazing Tripod.

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