Courageous Conversations for Adults and Kids


Many discussions we have at with each other “feel” intractable.  Intractable conflict exists when multiple parties see something in concept or form in opposite or dramatically different ways.  Conflict of this type is categorized as “Protracted.” “Destructive.” “Deep-rooted.” “Resolution-resistant.” “Intransigent.” “Gridlocked.” “Identity-based.” “Needs based.” “Complex.” “Difficult.” “Malignant.” “Enduring.” 

The result of intractable conflict is normally some form of technical or procedural gridlock.   This can also create situations where people take it upon themselves to “take action” on their own to solve the problem at hand.   Intractable conflict itself is very difficult to resolve.   Think about conflict in the Middle East as intractable.   Now if we reflect on the idea that the discussions and challenges “feel” intractable vs. the reality in our situation, it is more likely that our discussions and disagreements are very solvable but with the caveat of communication overhead.   Communication overhead meaning, we have to work hard to communicate more often with clarity of outcome, desired results, humility, courage and compromise.     We have to ask and challenge ourselves as we challenge others in active dialogue. 

Sammy says “Listening is important to understanding”

When two or more people converse to deepen understanding or make an informed decision, they are engaging in two types of conversations – dialogue and discussion.

  • Dialogue is a reflective learning process in which two or more people seek to understand each other’s viewpoints and deeply held assumptions. It is a conversation in which talking and listening by all parties creates a flow of meaning. Out of dialogue emerges a new and shared understanding. Dialogue is a tool for collective exploration of meaning – not a search for the right answer or the best solution.
  • Discussion is a conversation in which two or more people intend to come to some form of closure – by either making a decision, reaching agreement, or identifying priorities. Discussion involves convergent thinking focused on tasks. While two or more people build deeper meaning along the way, the real purpose is to come to a meeting of minds and reach some agreement.

Conversations require passion, integrity, authenticity, and collaboration.

Sammy says “Be You”

Both dialogues and discussions are considered “courageous” when the participants are able to expose the values and check the validity of the assumptions that underlie their actions and views. Building an atmosphere of trust and respect is key to both enabling individuals to participate in courageous conversations and establishing a culture in which courageous conversations and feedback are seen as necessary for improvement.

1. Based on Peter Senge et al., The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday/Currency,1994). Used with permission.

The Seven Principles of fierce Conversations

  1. Master the courage to interrogate reality.® Are your assumptions valid? Has anything changed? What is now required of you? Of others?
  2. Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.® When the conversation is real, change can occur before the conversation is over.
  3. Be here, prepared to be nowhere else.® Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.
  4. Tackle your toughest challenge today.® Identify and then confront the real obstacles in your path. Confrontation should be a search for the truth. Healthy relationships include both confrontation and appreciation.
  5. Obey your instincts.® During each conversation, listen for more than content. Listen for emotion and intent as well. Act on your instincts rather than passing them over for fear that you could be wrong or that you might offend.
  6. Take responsibility for your emotional wake.® For a leader there is no trivial comment. The conversation is not about the relationship; the conversation is the relationship. Learning to deliver the message without the load allows you to speak with clarity, conviction, and compassion.
  7. Let silence do the heavy lifting.® Talk with people, not at them. Memorable conversations include breathing space. Slow down the conversation so that insight can occur in the space between words.

 Establish Basis for Effective Questioning.

 The basic elements of a courageous conversation include effective questioning.   Effective questions have characteristics and are open ended, invitational, specific,  evocative, biased either positively or neutral and have the ability to challenge assessments.  

Sammy says “Be open to asking questions”

Emotional Aspect

Let us consider the concept of emotion.  

Being right does not make us effective. 

Being effective does not make us right. 

We may be solving the wrong problem with great analytical rigor!  We must allow ourselves to be open to new things.    The folks at Blockbuster thought they were right when they said “no” to the current CEO of Netflix.  In 2000, Reed Hastings approached former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and asked for $50 million to give away the company he founded — Netflix.

Antioco, thinking that it was a “very small niche business,” ended the negotiations and didn’t buy Netflix, which at the time was a DVD mailing service, according to Variety.   Yeah, in 2015 it was worth 32.5 billion dollars.   Today, 100 billion dollars.  

What this means is just because you have expertise have done something for the past x amount of years doesn’t mean it will get you where you want to be in the future. 

We all need to be self-aware enough to recognize when to listen and learn vs lecture.   This means,  we have to deal with our emotional complexity and set it aside for the power of possibilities.

Sammy doesn’t like being lectured… but you can talk to him..!~

Thank you Sammy! We work on effective and courageous conversations in our house.. You should too!


One Reply to “Courageous Conversations for Adults and Kids”

  1. Thanks Howie.
    I started a blog a few years back called “Why the conversation “. I never publicized it even as it is not private because I know some of my thoughts might be misunderstood. But this is the prelude to it:

    Today, we often decide to avoid conversations that will lead to the clashing of wills.  This is what we commonly term an “argument”.  Since many of us have decided to avoid conflicts as a way to navigate this diverse world we have also lost a necessary means of discovering common truths.  This has now created a large society of relative truths which results in either “live and let live” attitudes or violence.  Violence happens when the wills of individuals feel squashed because others don’t want to listen and have “the conversation” to expose both sides of an argument.
The key to conversation is to open our vulnerabilities and in today’s climate that is becoming more difficult since we’ve becoming more unwilling to open ourselves to others for fear of being attacked.  Instead we seem to spend more time attempting to conform others to social norms rather than seeking to be a “fellow traveler” in life’s journeys’.
I propose that when we don’t want to have “the conversation” we are in effect not allowing our hearts to be vulnerable.  A vulnerable heart won’t build a wall around it to protect our feelings.  Understanding ones heart requires for it to be exposed and this takes courage.  This isn’t the same as standing up for ones principles but instead standing up for humility.  This is a difficult choice.  However, humility grounds us in our human condition and means we recognize we are only part of the wholeness of life not just individual self-sustaining life forms.  We rely on each other and all creation for our humanity and once we truly realize that fact we then realized we need to open our hearts to hear what the conversations are telling us.
How might we start such a process?  One of the first things we might do is start these conversations and that is the purpose and intent for this blog.  The key to making this sort of conversation meaningful is not to be judgmental.  This is hard for us to do; it’s something I struggle with constantly.  So when we see judgement which many times ends conversations by putting the wall up thus closing the heart telling your inner self I don’t want to listen any longer because I have resolved for my inner self a belief to be either right or wrong, then we need to identify it as such to the individual so that they can see it for what it is.
What I would like to attempt is not to establish what’s right or wrong but discover what’s in our hearts that motivates our wills.  Is it love or is it fear?  Once we determine the motivators of the heart we can drill down to the sub-levels of what is objective truth and what might be relative truths.  I say this because I know we can fool ourselves by seeing love as a cover-up of our inner emotions because all too often those emotions are actually driven by fear.  Let me try to explain this with dependency and interdependency.  Dependency is allowing another person to have more control of your choices than you have yourself.  This leads to one way communication, limits any conversation and can erupt into violence (with many married couples even divorce).  Whereas interdependency helps to point out that we both need to be accountable, reliable and vulnerable to each other’s needs and desires out of a defined sense of belonging through our attachment with them.  Without conversation we never will get there.
Therefore when we can uncover or unpackage our inner feelings of the heart to find the motivation of our wills I believe we come to confront the inner feelings of love or fear.  This binary analysis is not to be resolute but to find contemplation which is where the core of the heart converses with our consciousness and allows our vulnerable heart to grow in knowledge about ourselves and all creation.
This is my intent and why I want to open conversations on this or any topic.  Please feel free to comment and participate in this experiment.  My intent is to facilitate a non-judgmental focus, not to be a talking head.  From time to time I might share my thoughts or prompt discussion with my comments as I too am looking to open my heart by this sharing experience.


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