In the last few weeks, like many others, I finally hit the wall. I was deeply saddened by all the events in succession that happened, COVID-19, Ahmad Aubrey, Brianna Taylor, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd to name a few. I decided that enough was enough and I had a responsibility to do something right where I am planted.
It all started with a strong desire to create space for my organization to share how they were feeling without judgment, allowing them to take off the mask and just feel, knowing they were not alone. The audience quickly grew and what followed surprised us all. What emerged was a level of authenticity that allowed people to have a glimpse into their world through personal stories. We know that empathy is developed through proximity. This forum was one small way to allow our organization to sit at the virtual table to share authentically, listen and learn.
I opened the discussion with my intention to create space for authentic conversations about how people are really feeling. It was important to me that I recognize others who have experienced injustice: Hispanic/LatinX, LGBTQ+I, Immigrants, Native Americans, People with any type of difference. I mustered up the courage to have this dialogue, knowing it had never been done before. I decided to be unapologetically me and try to bridge this divide that continues to widen because everyone is afraid to say what needs to be said, living in fear of the unspeakable happening. It was time for us to have a real conversation about race, difference, and the experience it creates.
To demonstrate our desire to have an authentic conversation, I read this article written by Danielle Cadet followed by a personal story to demonstrate my willingness to be vulnerable. Then we opened it up and the silence was deafening. I refused to speak because I knew if I held on long enough someone would speak up. Then it happened, the first person spoke, and a beautiful conversation emerged. Out of respect for everyone in those discussions, I will not dive in to details, but I will say, that many were able to have an authentic conversation that opened their eyes to a hard-core reality that, for some, changed their lives forever. If we want to drive real change, we must have that uncomfortable conversation. Through these discussions you develop shared understanding and begin to move forward.
How do you have Authentic Conversations?
1. Show Up & Listen with Empathy – The first step is to be willing to show up without distraction and be fully present. Just listen with empathy. You don’t have to say anything, just demonstrate you care.
2. Be Vulnerable – Be willing to admit you are uncomfortable. Recognize you do not have the same lived experience and acknowledge this might be new for you. Emphasize you want to support them and learn.
3. Active Listening – Listen to understand, not to respond. Just deeply listen and hear what they are trying to say to you. It may not be very succinct. Give them time to peel back the layers and share. Your job is just to listen and seek clarity when needed.
4. Validate their Feelings – Do not judge their feelings or feel the need to comment. They have a right to feel their feelings. Just thank them for sharing and acknowledge it took courage for them to speak. Continue to listen until they are done.
5. Ask Where you Can Help – Ask them what they want/need?
6. Follow Through – Put some actions behind your words. If they ask for help, then please follow through.
Be willing to get uncomfortable and drive authentic discussions. Remember, “Proximity breeds Empathy”. Let us challenge ourselves to have deeper, more meaningful conversations – only then will you see the gateway to driving real change.
Be the Difference!