YOU CAN’T ASK THAT! OR CAN YOU?
Ever asked a question and wished you could take it back?
Being politically correct was a thing, it is not so much anymore. Maybe that’s the one thing we can thank Trump for. PCedness has been replaced by a movement of authenticity and the ability to be real. To have real, sometimes uncomfortable conversations even with those you fervently disagree with. In fact especially with those you disagree with or who differ from you. Brené Brown advocates in her latest book ‘Braving the Wilderness’ staying connected rather than hiding securely within groups of sameness only associating with those who agree with us. Our belief systems and opinions never challenged. She urges us to explicitly have those tough conversations.
Navigating those conversations can be cringe worthy and confronting for the best of us. As an advocate for authentic engagement I find myself still struggling to get the approach right and every now and again getting it precisely wrong.
To that end, I recently attended TedX with a friend; I eagerly anticipated old hands and first time speakers standing in front of thousands, speaking their truth, telling their stories. My friend, lets call her Jen, as an aspiring coach had similar reasons for attending to me. I also knew that she had been in cancer treatment for a while, I was not sure if she had finished her course of treatment or not. Instead of asking her directly, I waited for her to leave the room and asked her partner quietly ‘how is she doing?’ Almost immediately I thought to myself, ‘why did I do that? Why didn’t I just ask her?’ I silently berated myself for my subversion.
When she returned I fessed up and said ‘I was just asking John how your treatment was going’. She gave me the full run down, not offended that I hadn’t asked her directly. It must happen all the time I thought. The question or topic made me uncomfortable, so I had avoided it. I had not lived up to my own standards of authenticity. Reframing conversations and self-beliefs is a big part of what I write and coach about, it’s never too late to rewrite your story or reframe your thinking. But writing is purely theory, living it takes a lot more commitment.
Jen then offered me a gift, a new part of her authentic story; ‘before cancer I was a fearful person, I was afraid of everything, I was afraid of what might or might not happen. Then it did, cancer happened. But I have decided not to be angry at it, because Cancer has taught me to be less afraid and to take a risk on myself, to stop waiting and get on with it, so I am’.
Would I take this gift and become braver in my conversations, I was hoping so.
This week I went off to my local bookstore dragging the dog with me.
‘Is it ok to bring him in? He is nearly blind and panics if I tie him up’,
‘Sure’ she said.
As I approached the counter with my selection the chatty blonde 30-something behind the register looked down at my dog and said ‘I have a Cav, he is 5, how old is yours?’
Nearly ’11’ I said’.
Dog people, we love talking all things dog.
I am not sure how we meandered towards the next part of the conversation, but it went something like this.
‘I got my Cav after 3 miscarriages when we were trying for children, and guess what, about a month later I was pregnant!’
‘Fantastic’ I said, ‘that seems to be a common theme, get puppy get pregnant’. I got my dog for similar reasons.’
‘Did it work for you too?’ she queried excitedly.
I laughed, ‘No, I got divorced instead but I took the dog’
She hesitated and then laughed along with me when she sensed no tension in my tone.
‘I shouldn’t have asked’ she said, embarrassed, ‘I just seem to come out with silly questions.’
‘No no, please don’t apologise’ I said.
‘I am now remarried with three giant stepchildren and a step granddaughter who is nearly one. Kids come to your life in different ways’.
She smiled at me and said ‘Yep they do and it all starts with dogs’.
As the dog and I trotted out the door I was smiling to myself, I reckon I have successfully reframed infertility, so yes, go ahead, ask me about it.
How many conversations do we have in a day I wonder – 20-30? How many do we remember in this much detail? I would suggest not many. The moment you avoid small talk and dive bravely into a real topic, with empathy and an open mind, irrespective of the taboos around it, you will be in a conversation worth having.
Next blog we’ll talk about how to decide on your strengths or what you have to offer, there is a great exercise I want to share with you.
Founder, International Career Coach and Author