In light of the intensity of some things going on in our country and our world these days, I’ve been thinking a lot about difficult conversations and how we go about having them. Many of us have strong opinions – about who we want to win the election, diversity in the entertainment industry, and what’s going on within our companies or families – and this can lead to some pretty intense disagreements.
An important part of bringing our whole selves to work is feeling empowered to share our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs honestly. Because of this, and especially when we do feel comfortable enough at work to do so, these disagreements are inevitable. What I’ve found, though, is that sometimes it’s not the topic itself that causes issues, but instead how we decide to have these hard conversations.
In the past few months, especially, I’ve seen conflicts get blown way out of proportion because people didn’t connect live but instead turned to Slack, Twitter, Facebook, text or email to communicate their feelings or settle a disagreement. Written communication without live conversations often contributes to increased conflict and lack of resolution.
Even though most of us, myself included, know better, why do we still do this?
First of all, all forms of electronic communication tend to be the primary way we connect these days for many of us – both personally and professionally. So, communicating on these platforms is just what’s easiest.
Second of all, it can sometimes seem easier for us to be honest and direct in writing because we can say what is true for us without having to worry about the in-the-moment reaction of another person.
And third, electronic communication takes way less courage than having a live, real conversation with another human being, on the phone, on video, or in person. When we talk to people live we have to deal with our fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, and our tendency not to speak our full truth. Avoiding the live conversation and choosing to communicate in writing sometimes feels “safer” and can allow us to say things we might otherwise withhold.
Regardless of why we choose to engage in important conversations via these electronic forms of communication, it’s much less likely for us to work through conflicts, align with one another, and build trust and connection when we avoid talking to each other live about important topics.
Anything we’re willing to engage in electronically can usually be resolved much more quickly, effectively, and positively by having a live conversation, even if we’re scared to do so. The fear may be real, but most often the “threat” is not.
Here are some things you can do to practice engaging in live conversations with people more often and, ultimately, to resolve your conflicts more successfully.
1) Be clear about your intention – Before sending an email, text, or posting something in Slack or on social media, ask yourself, “What’s my intention?” If you’re about to engage in something that is in any way emotionally charged, about a conflict, or important on an interpersonal level, check in to make sure you’re not simply sending the electronic message to avoid dealing with it and the person(s) directly involved. Tell the truth to yourself about how you feel, what you want, and why you’re about to engage in the specific type and form of communication you’re choosing.
2) Don’t send or post everything you write – Writing things out without a filter and just letting all of our thoughts and feelings flow can be a very important exercise, especially when we’re dealing with a conflict or something that’s important to us. However, we don’t always have to send or post everything we write! It’s often a good idea to save an email in your drafts folder and read it again later (maybe after you’ve calmed down a bit or even the following day). I’ve done this many times, and sometimes end up editing or simply deleting the message – choosing to pick up the phone and talk live, or deciding to not send or share it at all once I’ve thought about it more.
3) Request a call or a meeting – Before engaging in a long, emotional email or social media exchange, it can often be best to simply pick up the phone or send a note to request a specific time to talk about the situation live. Face to face is always best if you can make it happen, but if that poses a big challenge (i.e. you’re busy and it might take a while to set up) or is not possible (i.e. you don’t live close enough to the person to see them easily), talking on the phone or by video is another option. A great email response can simply be, “Thanks for your note, this seems like something that would be better to discuss live than by email. Let’s set up a time to talk later today or this week.”
4) Speak your truth, without judgment or blame – When you do engage in the live conversation (in person or on the phone), focus on being real, not right. This means that you speak your truth by using “I statements” (I think, I feel, I notice, I want, etc.). As soon as we move into blame or judgment, we cut off the possibility of any true resolution. Own your judgments and notice if you start to blame the other person(s) involved. If so, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and get back to speaking your truth in a real way, not accusing them of stuff.
5) Get support from others – When we’re dealing with emotionally-charged conflicts, it’s often a good idea to reach out for support from other people we trust and respect. If at all possible, try to get feedback from people who will be honest with you, won’t just tell you what you want to hear and agree with you no matter what, and who aren’t too emotionally connected to the situation themselves. Whether it is to bounce ideas off of each other, get specific feedback, or simply to help you process through your own fear, anger, or tendency to overreact (which many of us do in situations like this), getting support from those around us in the process is essential. We don’t have to do it alone and we’re not the only ones who struggle with things like this.
Living life, doing our work, and interacting with the other human beings around us can be wonderfully exciting and incredibly challenging (or anywhere in between). Conflicts are a natural part of life, work, and relationships. We can learn so much about ourselves and others through engaging in productive conflict and important conversations.
The ultimate goal isn’t to live a conflict-free life; it’s to be able to engage in conflict in a way that is productive, healthy, and effective. When we remember that live conversations, even if they can be scary at first, are always the best way to go, we can save ourselves from needless worry, stress, and suffering – and in the process, resolve our conflicts much more quickly, easily, and successfully.
Are there situations in your life that require live conversations where you have either been avoiding, tweeting, or emailing – and they’re not getting resolved? What can you do to address these situations directly – and have live conversations with those people? Share your thoughts, ideas, and questions about this here in the comments.
In light of black history month, I’ve been thinking a lot about our country’s history and how we all play a role in our future moving forward. In the past few years, we have witnessed the shootings of unarmed African American teenagers at the hands of police, the rise of white nationalism, and many concerning comments from our president. In all of these circumstances, it’s easy for us to condemn others, but it’s harder for us to look within ourselves.
While these instances, practices, and comments are troubling, discriminatory, and racist, I find the reaction to them very interesting. When racist things happen, I’m happy to see strong statements reaffirming the dignity of black and brown people along with calls for accountability, justice, and equality. However, on a deeper level, I think most of us, whatever our personal views or opinions are on these issues, are often hypocritical in our assessments and accusations. While the majority of people I know, myself included, would never condone outright bigotry, all of us have said, thought, and likely done things that are mean, hurtful, and even racist, whether consciously or unconsciously, recently or in the past.
Many of us live our daily lives completely unaware of our shadow (the aspects of ourselves that we hide, deny, and pretend don’t exist). I, personally, struggle with my own shadow all the time. There are aspects of myself that I don’t like, I want to conceal, or that I am not even aware of in any conscious way.
However, if we don’t confront our shadow honestly, and do the deep personal work of confronting, forgiving, and accepting ourselves, our shadow will end up running our lives and will keep us in an unconscious, self-righteous, and arrogant daze.
As a straight, white, cisgender, American man with resources, I sit on a perch of privilege. But I have also benefited from the unique experiences of growing up with a single mother without much money, attending an inner-city high school in Oakland, CA with a white population of 18%, and earning a college degree in American Studies with a specialization in race and ethnicity.
Over the years, I’ve gained a greater understanding of myself and of the importance of being kind, loving, and accepting of myself and others. I consider myself to be fair, open, honest, accepting, trusting, and more. I also have always had the ability to get along with all kinds of people and fit in in most situations. And, even with all of this, I’ve had racist thoughts, done and said things that were discriminatory, and held opinions (both conscious and unconscious) that are mean, hurtful, and not anything that I’m proud of.
This dark stuff, our shadow side, is as much a part of who we are as anything else, and it’s important for us to be more honest with ourselves and each other about it. Most of the political, social, and familial discussions, conflicts, and issues that we all face have to do with us not being truthful and owning up to these shadowy aspects of ourselves.
This is not to say that perpetrators of racism and discrimination should be let off the hook, or not held accountable for their words and deeds. It is to say, however, that we all have aspects of light and dark within us. Life is much more complex than it seems on the surface and we waste a lot of time trying to argue for how things should be in some unrealistic, fantasy world. We all have bias and prejudice within us, but the important work is in recognizing this and reckoning with it in an authentic way. By doing this, we can also have more compassion, understanding, and love for ourselves and others – even those we don’t like and agree with.
We are complex beings, filled with paradox, confusion, brilliance, and deep pain, among other things. But we have to be willing to confront our shadow and make peace with ourselves. By confronting this honestly, we can assuage some of our internal and external conflicts, and authentically address some of the biggest challenges we face – personally, relationally, and societally.
We’re living in some pretty crazy times right now. From the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, which I wrote about recently, to the spread of the coronavirus, to President Trump’s acquittal on all impeachment charges – there’s a lot going on in the world around us. And, each of us have important things going on in our lives – both personally and professionally. With all of this happening, it’s extremely important to honor (and actually feel) our feelings.
Honoring our emotions isn’t about being self-absorbed or arrogant – it’s really about being true to ourselves, honest with how we feel, and willing to engage in authentic conversations with other people – even, and especially, when we don’t feel or want the same things that they do.
A question I’ve often asked myself is: “What would it be like to honor my real emotions and to live my life from a deeper place of authenticity?” However, it can be hard to honor our emotions and even harder to share how we truly feel with others. Some of the primary reasons for this are:
- We worry that people won’t like or approve of us
- We don’t value ourselves in an authentic way (i.e. we think we’re not good enough)
- We’ve been taught to put other people’s needs, desires, and feelings ahead of our own
- We’re not comfortable feeling and expressing certain emotions
- We don’t think we “deserve” to have what we want (i.e. we think we’re not important enough)
- We haven’t been taught healthy ways to feel and express our true emotions
- We worry that we’ll be judged as “selfish” or “overly emotional”
These and other things get in the way of feeling and expressing our real emotions. Sadly, by not honoring our feelings we both discount ourselves in a painful, and ultimately damaging way, and we create separation between us and other people – those we live with, work with, and who are most important to us.
Here are a few things you can do to enhance your capacity to honor your emotions:
- Be Real About How You Truly Feel– The first step of any process is always about being real, first and foremost with ourselves. Even if we’re unclear or uncomfortable with a specific situation or certain set of emotions or desires, the more willing we are to be real about what we truly feel and want, the more ability we’ll have to honor ourselves and be authentic with others. Making it a practice of getting in touch with our true feelings is essential. A great way to do this is through journaling. It’s not about justifying how we feel to anyone else; it’s about being honest with ourselves and our emotions.
- Stop Judging Yourself– One of the biggest things that can get in our way in life, in general and specifically when it comes to feeling our emotions and expressing our desires, is self-judgment. We think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “If I share this, they will think I’m a terrible person.” We use these self-critical thoughts to suppress our true feelings, which can have significantly negative consequences on us and others. What if we just allowed ourselves to be real and to honor what’s true for us in the moment, without judging it?
- Give Yourself Permission to Feel– Because of our self-judgment, we sometimes don’t give ourselves permission to feel… especially certain emotions. As human beings we tend to have a hierarchy of emotions – liking the “good” ones (love, joy, gratitude, peace, etc.) and not liking the “bad” ones (anger, fear, hurt, powerlessness, etc.). However, at the deepest level, all human emotions have value and can benefit us if we’re willing to feel them in an authentic and healthy way. Giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling is critical to our ability to honor and move through our emotions in a way that serves us, our relationships, our careers, and our lives.
- Let Go of Your “Story”– Many of us, myself included, are attached to our “story.” We love all of the drama and all of the details that make up the relationships, situations, and circumstances in our lives (both past and present). While our life story, as well as the details of specific relationships and circumstances in our lives, are important at some level, too often we get caught in the story and all the drama, which actually takes us out of our emotional experience. Where we have real power is in feeling our emotions authentically, not simply talking about them, rationalizing them, or explaining them – but truly feeling them. Human emotions are not sustainable – especially if they are honestly felt and expressed. It only takes about a minute or two to genuinely feel and move through an emotion. However, when we attach an emotion to a story, we don’t allow ourselves to truly feel it and thus can keep it stuck in place.
- Get Emotional Support– As important as our emotions are to our lives, our well-being, our success, and our relationships, sadly we don’t get a lot of emotional training in life (through school, at work, and in general) and we don’t often have built-in, healthy emotional support mechanisms in our daily lives. We live in a world that is primarily focused on action, results, and appearances – none of which has anything to do with our emotional experience (even though our emotional experience is not only one of the most important aspects of our lives, but is what drives much of what we do and produce in life). There are, however, many ways we can find or enhance our emotional support. Most of us have certain emotional support structures in our lives that we’ve set up for ourselves, consciously or unconsciously. The key is for us to utilize these in a consistent and authentic way, as well as to make sure they are empowering us to honor ourselves and our emotional experience in life.
The craziness in the world, at work, and in our lives may ebb and flow a bit, but it won’t ever really go away completely. We’re the common denominator in all of our experiences and relationships. By authentically honoring, feeling, and expressing our emotions – we can enhance our well-being, eliminate unnecessary suffering, resolve conflicts, and build deeper connections with those around us – at work, at home, and in life. While we’re all beautifully unique as individuals, we all universally experience the full range of emotions as human beings. Remembering this and having the courage to be real about how we truly feel reminds us that we’re all in this thing called life together.
What do you do to honor your emotions in a healthy way? What makes this challenging for you? Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, or any questions you have in the comments section below.
This post was originally published on Forbes.
I woke up early this morning in a little bit of a daze. I thought about the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others yesterday and my initial thought was, “Oh, it was just a bad dream.” Then a few more breaths and I realized, “Nope, not a bad dream, a sad reality.” My heart sank.
The fourth anniversary of my sister Lori’s passing was earlier this month, followed by what would have been her 50th birthday a few days later, so I have been thinking about life, death, loss, and the fragility of it all a lot in recent weeks and months (over the holidays).
It feels sad and scary to think about this for many reasons, but also important and liberating at the same time. I often think about and quote something that was said to me many years ago, “You’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it…you have to remember, nobody ever has.” So true.
When people die – especially when it seems too soon and it doesn’t make sense – it’s often hard to process. Even when people are older and/or have been sick for a while, it still can feel wrong, unfair, and confusing. We live in a culture that is obsessed with results, action, youth, beauty, winning, progress, and more. While these things aren’t bad in and of themselves, our obsession with them, and our tendency to forget to focus on who and what matter most, can be incredibly damaging.
In moments of loss like this – whether the loss is personal or public – it serves as an intense reminder for each of us and all of us to stop, reflect, and take inventory of our priorities.
I didn’t know Kobe, his daughter Gigi, or any of the other people on that helicopter yesterday, but my heart breaks for all of them and everyone who knew and loved them. They are all in my thoughts and prayers.
And, as I sat on the couch last night watching the Grammys with my wife Michelle, our daughter Samantha (who is the same age as Gigi), and our younger daughter Rosie, I cried during a number of the songs, speeches, and tributes – thinking about Kobe and everyone touched by yesterday’s tragedy, and also thinking about my sister Lori, my parents, and everyone important who I’ve lost in my life…as well as all of the loss and grief we each experience as human beings.
Death can be so painful, and grief can be so hard. And yet, it is one of the most universal experiences of being human. It reminds us of the fragility and vulnerability of life in a body, forces us to put things in perspective, challenges us to expand our understanding of how things work, and connects us with one another in a profound way.
When something like this happens, it makes it clear to me that we’re all in this life thing together, doing the best we can, and that there are no guarantees. And, as scary as this can be, there’s also some real freedom in it if we’re willing to embrace it, be real about it, and lean on those around us and tap into our spiritual connection in an authentic and open way.
Let’s be gentle with ourselves today (and every day), do everything we can do focus on love, forgiveness, and the people and things that truly matter most.
While we are still in the first few weeks in January, the annual “new year, new you” phenomenon is all around – online, in the media, in our social media feeds, and more. And while this time of year can be a great catalyst for positive change in our lives, what if we made a commitment to live our lives in 2020 focused on who we are, and not so much on what we do, what we accomplish, what we look like, what we’re striving for, and more? One of best things we can do in this year is to focus on who we really are and what’s most important to us, instead of who we think we’re supposed to be.
Who would we be without our accomplishments (or failures), our degrees (or lack thereof), our bank accounts, our experiences, our title, our home, our status, and more? As simple of a concept as this is for us to think about and discuss, at least on the surface, it’s actually quite difficult for many of us, myself included, to genuinely separate who we are from what we do (or have done or not done). These past few years have taught many of us, in some cases quite painfully, how quickly the external circumstances of our lives (and the world) can change dramatically and things can be taken away.
The deeper question for us to ponder here is really one of the big philosophical questions of life, “What makes me valuable?” While this is something we have all thought about to some degree, most of us don’t really engage in this inquiry on a regular basis. And, when we do, we often think that if we just got more done, lost some weight, made more money, took a vacation, accomplished a goal, had more meaningful work, made it to retirement, or whatever, then we’d be “happier” or feel more “valuable.” Sadly, as we’ve all experienced, this is not usually the case and is also one of the main reasons why most of our New Year’s “resolutions” don’t really last.
What if, in addition to having important goals for the year (and in general), we could also expand our capacity for appreciating ourselves and being who we really are this year – having nothing to do with our external circumstances? What if just being ourselves, the way we are right now, is good enough?
Being ourselves actually takes a great deal of courage, commitment, and faith. It’s a process of letting go of many false beliefs we’ve picked up from the collective consciousness – that we have to look good, be smart, know the right people, say the right things, have the proper experience, make a certain amount of money, and more, in order to be happy and successful in life. Being ourselves can be scary and counter intuitive, difficult and even off-putting, and, at times, lonely.
However, being our authentic self is liberating, exciting, and fulfilling. When we have the courage to just be who we are, without apology or pretense, so much of our suffering, stress, pressure, and worry in life simply goes away.
Here are a few things to consider and practice as you deepen your awareness of and capacity for being who you truly are in this New Year:
1) Tell the truth to yourself. Think about and own how much of your self-worth is based on what you do, how you look, who you know, what you’ve accomplished, etc. (i.e. the external stuff). The more we let go of being defined by the external, the more freedom, peace, and power we can experience. And, as we really get honest with ourselves, we may realize that outside of these external things, we don’t really know who we are. As scary as this may seem on the surface, it’s actually great news and can give us access to a deeper and more meaningful experience of who we are.
2) Appreciate who you really are. What do you appreciate about yourself that has nothing to do with anything external? In other words, what personal qualities (of being, not doing) do you value about yourself? The more we’re able to tap into what we appreciate about who we are (not what we do), the more capacity we have for real confidence, peace, and self-love.
3) Practice just being you. As silly as it may sound, we all need to “practice” being ourselves. We have a great deal of experience being phony or being how we think we’re supposed to be. It actually takes conscious practice for us to be able to just show up and be who we are. We can practice alone, with people we know, and with total strangers. This is all about awareness – paying attention to how we feel, what we’re thinking, what we say, and how we show up. It’s not about getting it right or doing anything specific, it’s about letting go of our erroneous notions of how we think we’re supposed to be, and just allowing ourselves to be who and how we are in the moment.
Have fun with this, talk to others about it, and have a lot of compassion with yourself as you practice – this is big stuff for most of us. This year, instead of trying to be a “new” you by fixing a list of things you think need to be fixed about you, just be yourself and see what happens.