Hard Conversations

By Natalie Irons, Associate Director, Instructional Coaching, UCLA Center X

“Whenever you feel uncomfortable, have second thoughts, or try to avoid saying what you need to say, what you aren’t saying is your hard conversation,” writes Jennifer Abrams in Having Hard Conversations. As I re-read this statement, I think, well of course it is. And then I think, how often do I have the hard conversation? If I am honest, rarely to never. I learned growing up that the message, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” was the way to handle hard things. While I don’t always keep my mouth shut in my work, the message in that early mental model provides a tension for how to respond in conversations that challenge me or the people I support.

A colleague helps frame this decision point with a question, “What are you willing to lose, or risk in having a hard conversation?” This question can help create some criteria to manage the internal tension we can all feel at times with having a hard conversation. Many of us have tried to get comfortable being uncomfortable or tried leaning into the discomfort, especially around issues of race and equity. As we engage in our work, it might help to start with an internal audit.

What might be keeping you or us from having a hard conversation? What might be within your role, capacity or responsibility to have a hard conversation? What might be the results or consequences of not speaking to the hard issues?

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