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Difficult Conversations

As of right now, Thursday morning, we still do not know who won the presidency. Unless you live and completely surround yourself with an echo chamber of likeminded individuals, it is highly likely that you may find yourself engaging in difficult conversations with others who feel differently about the outcome, whatever it may be.

Fact about the 2020 election: A significant number of people voted for Joe Biden and a significant number of people voted for Donald Trump. Although an electoral map showing the results seem as if the west coast, the northeast, and the Midwest are solidly democratic while the south, the rust belt, and the bread basket are solidly Republican, quite a number of states on various regions were close enough to go either way.

This leads me to believe that regardless of which part of the country you live in, you will come across others who voted for the candidate you opposed and you may feel quite strongly that you are right and voters for the other guy are absolutely wrong. As a society, I’d like everyone to take a moment and reconsider the standpoint of “I’m right, therefore you must be wrong.”

One of the books I’m reading for grad school is called Difficult Conversations. It’s excellent and applicable in numerous situations. My graduate program is in Educational Leadership, but the ideas espoused in this book are applicable for education, business, personal relationships including romantic relationships, self-awareness, and general empathy for others. It also provides a framework for difficult conversations about any topic, including political discord.

The book suggests each difficult conversation is really three conversations:

  1. The “What Happened?” Conversation: This is who said what, who did what part of the conversation. Often times, this turns into the who’s right and who’s wrong coupled with blame.

  2. The Feelings Conversation: How do I feel? Are my feelings valid? Do I need to push my feelings aside in this situation or do I need to acknowledge them? Feelings may not be addressed directly, but they certainly influence the response and reactions of a difficult conversation.

  3. The Identity Conversation: This is an internal conversation within one’s self about how this topic impacts our identity. Does my accepting the other person’s perspective make me not a [fill-in-the-blank]? In the case of political discord, does my conceding on this issue make me not a Democrat or Republican if political party is intertwined with my identity?

Conversations about politics will be difficult and awkward for the next several weeks to months depending on how events transpire in the coming days. We can avoid difficult conversations, but I think there’s so much growth that can happen individually and collectively if we can take some time to consider someone else’s point of view. There is an art to disagree respectfully and amicably. When faced with a difficult conversation, ask yourself these three questions about yourself and the the person you’re speaking to before jumping to conclusions or succumbing to emotions.


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