Our histories, opinions, and preferences make us unique.
It’s what drives creativity and innovation and provides learning opportunities for us all. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to have conversations about our differences, especially regarding opinions.
It’s unfortunate because the topics we struggle with most tend to be the ones we really need to have more in-depth conversations about. These topics are what represent our values, morals, beliefs, and the future of our children.
This post isn’t about my views; it is about the more recent, more apparent unspoken conversations. I call them unspoken because what I experience is NOT a conversation; it’s a battle or a one-sided “telling” match are below:
1. Politics (specifically the President):
He’s one of the most (if not the most) powerful people in the world. Some love him and some hate him; I don’t see or hear much in between. I have observed people trying to have a conversation about who they like/don’t like for President. When the topic is broached:
I see anger, anxiety, defensiveness.
Here what I don’t see is listening, empathy, questions.
Most people are so dug in with their opinion; there is no space.
No space to listen, no space for emotional intelligence (being aware of your emotion and self-regulating), and no space for learning. The conversation heats up so quickly that usually one party backs down, changes the subject or leaves.
Whether you like the President or you don’t,
we need to recognize that we do NOT have the ability to take
another person’s lens and see their entire experience.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear, from THEIR perspective, why they feel the way they do? What has happened in their life to lead them to this strong belief?
This conversation typically doesn’t get that far. Instead, it’s a shoot-out match to see who has the stronger argument for making the other person feel bad and nobody wins or loses. Certainly, nobody learns.
2. The Pandemic – Mask or no mask?
This conversation (again) is one that seems to be one extreme or the other. I haven’ t experienced much in between. Wear masks or you can’t tell me what to do.
When you have the opportunity to have a real conversation (in person or online) with a different viewpoint, they often are not telling the whole story. They are only stating if they believe or don’t believe in masks and social distancing. They aren’t telling the entire story because nobody is listening, and nobody is asking for more information (in most cases).
What if we were to ask those who have different opinions to tell us more about their personal story. And again, truly listen! Could we relate at all? Are there issues we were unaware of?
Is the story different than what you initially perceived?
In highlighting conversations that we can’t have, my whole point is to think about ways we could better learn and navigate difficult conversations.
We are keeping in mind the toughest conversations we have is an opportunity to be the role models for our children to learn skills by observing us. In my professional life, I teach these skills all the time. They apply to leadership and how we can be better at communication and tough conversations. The same rules apply in our personal lives, and sometimes we need a reminder.
The Red Flag of Emotion.
When you notice that you’ve been hooked by an emotion, use this as a red flag. A red flag that something is off and something needs to change. When you are “hooked” by emotion, we feel it physically and often react without thinking. Emotions are a physiological phenomenon that only lasts 90 seconds. When we feel anger based on something someone said, it will only last 90 seconds unless we re-run the circuit! That means only 90 seconds unless we continue to talk, think, and ruminate on the situation. If we contemplate, the emotion will stay with us much longer than 90-seconds.
Once you notice the red flag of emotion (anger, anxiety, shame, defensiveness), get curious instead of going into the auto mode of reacting. Get curious about where this emotion is coming from and why. When someone disagrees with your preference for President, why do you feel so angry? To get curious and recognize where the emotion is coming from, we can’t first talk. We must pause, get curious, and then lean into learning more. We can walk away and lean more into the question of why this situation/person has created anger within ourselves, or we can lean in to learn more from the person by saying things like, “Wow, that’s really interesting. Tell me more.”
Empathy drives innovation, collaboration, connection, and creativity. In many situations, I think we would all agree that creating connections is the better choice. But it’s not easy. Sometimes it’s easier to understand what empathy is not. Empathy is not giving advice. Empathy is not that you must have had the same experience. Empathy is not making the other person feel better or solving their problem. Empathy is an act of “being with” someone. As a matter of fact, in most cases, empathy isn’t talking or communicating at all. It’s “being with” a person and listening with our whole hearts.
Here is an excellent video on what empathy is and isn’t based on the research of Dr. Brene Brown, who studies shame, empathy, and courage.
I’ve learned it is easier to create empathy when I have some time to do it. Here are three tools that have helped me in many situations where the connection is what I’m trying to create, but creating empathy is really hard.
- Recognize that you do not see the whole picture.
- Imagine that the person in front of you is someone’s child.
Recognize why you are judgmental.
This is a hard one. The work that I do that focuses on Daring Leadership, shame and blame are a big part of the conversation. Here’s what we know; Parenthood is a minefield of shame. There is a lot of judgment, especially among moms.
As humans, we are only judgmental about topics that create shame for us.
We are most likely to shame others in areas that give us shame. In other words, when we’re feeling unsure or scared that we’re making mistakes as parents, that’s when we’re very quick to judge others in the way they parent. When we feel confident and full of self-worth, we don’t shame other people.
Walking Away with a Smile
We can have difficult conversations; we can connect with others, learn from their experiences, and walk away feeling enlightened. Often, we don’t change our stance or opinion, but we can recognize differences and appreciate them. Imagine a world where we all know how to create empathy, we listen with open hearts, and we learn so we can also teach others.
We still have disagreements, but we walk away with a smile and newly found respect and knowledge of “the other side.”
I like that world. That is the world I want to create for my children.