Uncomfortable Conversations: An Introduction
There’s no growth without growing pains
Diversity and inclusion work is hard work. The path is paved with uncomfortable conversations. Being an agent for change requires engaging with people and subjects that you wouldn’t usually engage with. It requires you talk about subjects that are considered taboo or confrontational. It requires you say things that may offend others or that they will reject. But there’s no growth without growing pains. The path of change is through uncomfortable conversations and never around them.
Yet it is easy to find reasons to avoid uncomfortable conversations. You may be afraid of making mistakes like the teacher who wants to talk about cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in the classroom and isn’t sure how to balance respect and freedom of speech. There are complex power relationships that have to be assessed and accommodated. Who should give way? Who should assert themselves?
Even for those who decide to take on the challenge of learning how to navigate uncomfortable conversations try to avoid the discomfort of the learning process. They change the subject, question the method, or undermine the process in other ways. It takes a real understanding of the need for and a true appreciation of the value of these conversations in order for participants to commit fully to the process. But when the leadership and participants are ready, learning about how to navigate uncomfortable conversations can be a powerful experience.
In every case, it’s a lengthy process. There is no one and done when it comes to diversity and inclusion training and uncomfortable conversations are no exception. If you’re interested in learning more uncomfortable conversations, try this. Think about the difference between people who have a choice versus those who have no choice about participating in uncomfortable conversations. People of color, bicultural people, LGBTQ people, immigrants, the disabled, and more don’t get to choose their uncomfortable moments. They live lives that accommodate the discomfort of others. This has to change.
My friend and mentor Jane Elliott says it best. She says we must learn to “confront the comforted and comfort the confronted.” It’s time to get uncomfortable.