Our tragedies in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and now Dallas have generated anger, fear, confusion, grief and despair. Many of us want to talk about these events with those we see and interact with most often – our coworkers. We believe such conversations can be positive; yet, we’re concerned the wrong words can permanently damage our relationships.
For some, the choice will be to avoid conversations for fear of saying something wrong. At best, that avoids potential conflict; at worst, it freezes the status quo locking in all perceptions, misperceptions, kind emotions and hardy resentments. Silence poses risks that nothing new will be understood, repaired or changed. What’s not addressed will be repeated.
For those who want more than that, here are some tips to allow for insightful conversations on current topics like race, politics, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation. The first question is, “What’s your purpose for wanting to communicate?” Of course, let’s remove the idea that anyone’s purpose is to insult, antagonize or goad others.
The remaining reasons to talk about serious issues are to understand others’ perceptions, explain our own points of view, express solace, or convince. If your purpose is to:
- Understand the points of view or circumstances differ from yours, then listen. You can’t understand much if all you hear are you own ingrained arguments. A mirror, rather than another human, works better for that kind of conversation. If you choose to listen, you can demonstrate that via maintaining direct eye contact, not interrupting, avoiding grimaces, head shaking or eye rolling. These and other “non verbals” communicate you have made up your mind and really have no interest in understanding or considering another’s experiences.
- Explain your point of view, then make sure your explanation is not insulting or demeaning. Posing questions like, “How can you not understand this?”, “What’s the matter with people like you?”, etc., will taint everything you have to say. Pointing fingers and other like gestures will also antagonize your coworkers. By the way, how you listen will help others listen to you when you explain your views. A back and forth conversation of understanding and explaining can accomplish a lot.
- Express solace for coworkers who may have special pain or loss in light of our recent tragedies, then the best words are “I’m sorry.” What else needs to be said?
- Convince another in the “rightness” of your position or cause, then don’t bother. It won’t end well and may worsen the ties you have with your coworkers. Where highly charged views and emotions are involved, a debate in the moment is neither illuminating nor productive.
These are conversational guidelines only. One further reminder is to avoid posting inflammatory content on your social media pages. You may have the right to do so, but the reach of the internet is wide, and your written words can poison live conversations even before they start.