In my travels around the world, I help people practice communication skills for their business, family, and social life. The skills are not new, but they are foundational to effective conversations. They are about clarity, compassion, and truthfulness. They are simple…on paper AND, they are different from what we usually do.
When I offer different approaches to conversations, a group in Taipei tells me that “You can’t do say that in our culture; you can do that in the States but here – it’s just not acceptable.” I hear the same thing from a people in Barcelona, Chicago, Hong Kong, Houston, Milan, San Diego, Tokyo, and Washington DC – all across the planet. What is it that people can’t do because of their culture? It’s doing something new or different. It’s an approach, a conversation, a tool, a technique – it’s anything that’s risky.
“Our culture” becomes the excuse for not trying something new. We’d like to speak up, take action, offer something new, but the risk feels too great. We feel that neither certain individuals nor the culture are ready for something different. Our tendency is to “live with it” and hope that things change in the future.
As human beings, our desire is to have others like us, to see us as valuable, competent, and relevant, to keep things comfortable and safe. To do this we keep our conversations safe by keeping silent about tough issues, saying “Yes” when we want to say “No”, blaming the culture, others, or our boss. Our fear is that if we try another approach others will get angry, won’t like us, or will fire us.
What I have seen in my travels are people who “know the skills” – in their heads but don’t use them in real conversations. We invent “reasons” NOT to try something different. What we don’t recognize is that we are really choosing NOT to use the skills. We avoid responsibility for our choices by blaming and complaining.
It is our fear that keeps us from moving forward, not a lack of skills or a desire to be helpful. We fear the possible results of something different. Our mind leaps forward and projects the worst of the worst outcome that may happen if we speak out. Corporate history, mythology, and gossip cloud our thinking. It is easier keeping things comfortable.
What do we need? As the Cowardly Lion said, “Courage”. Courage is about owning the choices we make and owning the results of those choices. It means taking a risk to deepen a relationship. It means tough conversations about unspoken issues.
Courage does not mean foolhardy or sacrificial acts like throwing our bodies on a grenade to save others. Courage is not bullying the other person or making demands that they change and do it our way. Courage is using simple, direct words with compassionate, respectful tones; it is a confrontation with compassion. Courage is about having the tough conversations, listening to others concerns, and being slow to give advice. Courage is offering choice and freedom. It is a precious gift to give others.
Complete the following statements to help you see your favorite reasons for not trying something new…
- “I would try something new if _______would change first.”
- “I will speak out when…”
- “I’d raise tough issues now if it weren’t for…”
Next, ask yourself these questions…
- What is my favorite complaint that I am reluctant to give up?
- If there were no risk, what would I really like to say or do?
- What will the future be like if I don’t change?
- Can I afford the risk of NOT speaking up or taking action?
- What am I choosing to do now?
Remember this — regardless of the situation the future is yours to create. Sometimes it requires having a difficult conversation. That conversation is an act of courage. The choice is yours.
From a workshop in Singapore where someone has just informed me that… “you can’t do that here…”
By Charlie Fields
Charles L. Fields is an international leadership consultant and executive coach who lives in Tolland with his family. Visit his website at www.clfields.com