OFF THE RECORD - Seton Hall Law

Tips for Successfully Navigating a Difficult conversation

Posted by Deborah Edwards on 1/24/18 8:30 AM

two-people-involved-in-important-conversation.jpgCelebrating diversity in the legal profession and in our lives in general is something we should all strive to do. As a result of this endeavor, we will eventually find ourselves in a discussion about a sensitive subject that we may find uncomfortable. When that happens, try not to let the uncomfortableness sideline the discussion! Below are some strategies you can use to make a conversation about an important or difficult topic a little bit easier.

Before any conversation about things like race, sexual orientation, classism or sexism begins, remember to do your homework. Becoming genuinely interested in learning about the experiences of people from different backgrounds, races, with different abilities, from different countries or who practice different religions will come through authentically in the conversation. And, remember, when it comes to how to have these discussions, there is no right answer, or one size fits all answer for all situations.

Other things to keep in mind before you begin the conversation:

  • Try to be more conscious and aware of your own biases, prejudices, and privilege.
  • Become empathetic to the lived experiences of others.
  • Do not prejudge a person because they are______. Everyone is an individual, so try to get to know the person you are talking to as an individual.
  • Do not stereotype and be conscious of microaggressions.
  • Engage in one conversation at a time. It is difficult to change the world all at once! You might find it easier to influence one person at a time.

Now that you are ready, remember this: The conversation itself should always be in-person, never by email or in writing. Why? Because tone matters.

Try starting the conversation by letting the person know you want to learn about ______, or understand ______, or you want to explain why you have a particular opinion, or position on a topic, or that you think it’s really important to have a conversation about ______, and why.

It may help if you ask for the person’s permission to have the conversation. You don’t necessarily need permission – it just helps to have the other person's buy-in and will likely result in a more engaging conversation. It may also be appropriate to tell the other person you are not trying to make them feel uncomfortable, but you think it's important to have the conversation, and you hope they are okay with that.

During the conversation try to:

  • Be calm. It makes it easier to reason, also easier to get your point across.
  • Listen fully. Be respectful and try not to be defensive.
  • If you feel differently, acknowledge the other person's feelings, then explain your position and why you feel the way you do.
  • Know your facts.
  • Acknowledge common ground – especially If there is a difference of opinion.
  • Then, try to influence.

Understand that personal opinions and perspectives are influenced by many things including upbringing, community, family, and other experiences and factors. It may take multiple conversations, and an ongoing dialogue to make progress on an issue, but, progress can be measured in many different ways! Praise your attempt to enter into the conversation and talk about the difficult subject.  These conversations can be challenging, awkward, sensitive, uncomfortable, but they can also result in your becoming a better person, and finding a new friend. Be courageous, be brave – the end result is usually worth it.

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

Topics: Advice and Tips, Student Life


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