Three Questions to Ask Yourself

If you don't know who Luvvie Ajayi is, you should get familiar and her Ted Talk is a great way to start. The gist is this: Ajayi advocates disruptive behavior, but not in that cliché, it's-a-current-buzzword-so-I'm-going-to-use-it-and-be-annoyingly-interruptive sort of way; instead, she encourages us all to speak our minds and get "comfortable with being uncomfortable." 

The gist is very Ghandian in spirit - you know, be he change you want to see in the world. The change in this case begins with speaking up when you see a problem or something that needs to be move in a different direction (change!). IMHO, I think a lot of people stay silent because we've become used to this image of the disrupter being off-cuttingly arrogant and bulldozer-ish, yelling and stomping feet as the catalyzers that simply invite change because everyone else wants their relative peace back. Ajayi, however, flips this notion on its head, and offers a kinder, gentler way toward the greater good that is more effective than the image conjured above. More effective in that it invites others to listen, it gives them buy-in, and in turn, effects change that lasts. When you see something that you'd rather not stay silent about, Ajayi advises you ask yourself these three questions:  

  • Do you mean it?
  • Can you defend it?
  • Can you say it with love?

Answer yes to all three and you should be on your way. Similarly prescriptive advice can be found within Buddhist texts and other sources (Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary?), but the bottom line is that speaking thoughtfully, truthfully, should be the norm, rather than the exception. If you can embrace this, you will be well on your way to becoming an incredibly effective communicator and changemaker. 

Difficult Conversations

Lately I've noticed that there are two predominant, yet highly disappointing and futile, methods of dealing with difficult conversations among many adults. The first, is to yell, dig in, and state your firm, unwavering position. The second is to avoid it altogether and develop a story in one's own mind as to how horrible things are, how they got so horrible, and how they'll never get back to good again, whatever the case maybe. Newsflash: neither of these work. 

Whether it's our digital lives or our protective human instincts that are curtailing our ability to communicate, difficult conversations need to be had. They're necessary at work, at home, at school, wherever you have something at stake. And here's the big secret, once you start these so-called "difficult" conversations, they're actually not that bad! 

Since everyone is either yelling or avoiding and narrating often vitriolic, one-sided conversations in their heads, being the one to buck these trends and actually communicate turns out to put you in a great position.

This is a widespread issue and varies widely based on subject matter, the people involved, and the context, so this is something that I'll revisit again and again. But for now, a few tips to remember if you're thinking about taking a leap and having that difficult conversation: 

  • Just do it. Letting negative feelings fester won't do anyone or any situation any good, so the first step is to convince yourself to start the conversation. 
  • Stay calm. This might mean that you have to wait a few days (or weeks) to arrive at a point where calmness is an option. So wait and when the time comes, then embark. 
  • Be honest, be open. As the adage goes, "There are two sides to every story." Wrapped up in our egotistical worlds, we forget this, even though we've heard it a million times. Life is filled with many more grey areas than black and white ones, so allow yourself to know that your story is one side and there is another side to which you should listen as well. 

    People Love a Good Story: Tell Them One

    Science Magazine recently published this article about the spread of news stories online. To me, it reads a bit like one of Aesop's fables. Researchers discovered that false news travels farther and more quickly than true news, most likely because of its novelty and the emotional reactions that it inspires. The boring old truth, doesn't seem to go nearly a far or as fast. The moral? Perhaps we need to communicate the truth in better ways. 

    Of course, there is no panacea and it seems to be that we live in a world that embraces fiction over fact, but we mustn't forget that adage "fact is stranger than fiction". 

    What if we flipped the current paradigm upside down? 

    What if we re-centered ourselves in truth? 

    What if we stopped filtering everything and starting embracing the beauty in honesty? 

    In such carefully curated world, it only makes sense to me that people should start embracing fictions so easily. After all, when our own profile pics are airbrushed ad nauseam and things so simple as our lunches or kids' snacks are carefully curated for shared imagery, a story that's more embellished and dramatic that we can share with an "OMG! The horror..." sort of intro seems like a surer bet for likes and shares/retweets. 

    However, if we step back and embrace what is, we find that there are many stories to be told within the truth, within reality. And it is within this reality that we can start to tell our stories in a bold way, with the audacity of honesty, and stand out that way. People love a good story, so start telling them good stories.