Saturday, November 21, 2009

Courageous Conversations

The hardest conversations to have sometimes come with those we care about the most concerning the most central issues that connect us. It takes pain to move forward sometimes and feelings and egos get bruised when the conversation is most honest. Only by loving each other enough can we even begin to have such hard conversations that create broad ranging and meaningful change to the comfortable, somewhat static world we occupy.

Professionally and socially the challenge to ask a thought provoking question that tackles taboos or threatens traditions seemingly violates our established social contract to do it the way we’ve always done it and to be the way we’ve always been. After all, it was that social contract that kept us together this long. To what shall we cling if that gentleman’s understanding does not stay understood. That very risk too often makes us retreat into the half-self we become by the limits such social contracts hold us to.

Having the conversation that changes the contracts moves us beyond that half-self. We begin to move into our fuller self and as a result those under the same contract also begin to become fuller selves. None in the contract remain limited as new boundaries are drawn and additional opportunities present themselves.

Hard conversations in relationships and in organizations are sometimes avoided because one can never predict how people will react when their sacred cows are grilled for dinner. The challenge then becomes to remove unneeded emotion from the debate and find the value of alternatives either a wholesale change or minor revision may present. If emotions are withdrawn from the discussion, it is no longer a hard conversation, but unnecessary emotion can derail the conversation. Cows, if they are lucky, have a life-span in the teens. Should sacred cows be any different?

I don’t remember the last time I saw a black-and-white television set for sale in a store. We are now in a generation with everything being high-definition color. The “console” is gone and the television has become “art.” Things change. Any organization that remains black and white will soon be replaced by a high-definition organization that represents today’s standards. Tradition gives us history, but they study of history shows us that even traditions adapt to the times. Sometimes the changes are slow, and sometimes they are rapid, but the reality is that traditions change.

Lately seems to be the season for having hard conversations within different organizations with which I am affiliated. Each one has been exhausting and yet in each one, the energy at the end has far exceeded that the organization had going into it. Another of my most meaningful organizations is beginning the process of an extremely hard conversation, but given the recent history I have had with such conversations, I look forward to this coming discussion.

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