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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Can You Make Discomfort Your Friend in Difficult and Courageous Conversations?

Un-Game Principle: Self-awareness through self-observation is a path to masterful communication, self-empowerment, and the empowerment of others.

13-09-11 Make Discomfort Your Friend in Difficult and Courageous ConversationsA courageous conversation is a difficult conversation NOT avoided. Of course it’s also more than that. But first, what’s a difficult conversation? A difficult conversation is any conversation where the thought of actually having it causes you discomfort. Discomfort could range from mild to acute.

The next question you might ask is “What can I learn from my discomfort that could make a courageous conversation possible for me?”

Let’s be clear. A successful courageous conversation doesn’t mean you get comfortable like lying in a hammock on a sunny, 75 degree fall afternoon. It just means you’re able to skillfully lean into the discomfort that now is a 3 rather than a 10.

While not a complete list, here’s what would allow us to befriend our discomfort and turn difficult conversations into courageous ones:

  • Challenging, and yes, discarding the belief that a passion for the inner life takes us away from the world…that paying attention to our inner world is self-obsessed, selfish, and downright unproductive (Remember, the American mindset is very partial to action, and self-reflection and action seem not to pair up well).
    • What does it take to challenge and discard a belief?
    • Doesn’t it begin with first seeing that you have this belief? Don’t believe everything you think. Your mind is unreliable. There’s much more to our mind than our conscious mind.
  • Your recognition in action that conversation is not all talk. Conversation can be verbal (words, tone, and voice) and non-verbal (facial expression, body postures, gestures, and movements). It pays to link your discomfort to those aspects of conversation.
    • Navigating a courageous conversation depends on cool heads and a willingness to be still. Your non-verbal conversation will speak very loudly…unbeknownst to you but not others. It will give away your beliefs even as others might not be able to articulate the belief you’re demonstrating. Isn’t that a good reason to lean into your discomfort and learn more about it? It’s the price of greater self-awareness and higher consciousness.
  • Having an open mind. If you have the judgment “I HAVE an open mind”, beware. Judgments constrict open minds including the one where you insist “I have an open mind!” An open mind is not static but open even under pressure. Might that statement be a defensive action against the discomfort of seeing that your mind may be closed?
  • Having an open heart. Having an open heart is the antidote to cynicism. You can’t simultaneously be cynical and have a courageous conversation. That doesn’t mean you relinquish being cynical, but you’re not cynical in this conversation. Might the very notion of having an open heart make you feel vulnerable (and therefore uncomfortable)?
  • Having an open will. An open will is the capacity to have your conversation be guided moment by moment by the commitment with which you entered the courageous conversation in the first place (for example, to know the other and to be known by them). What it means is that you won’t allow your fear to dominate you. You will continue, in other words, to lean into your discomfort and keep your focus on your intentions. No diversions! Easier said than done. Watch out especially for rationalization, excuses, and justification, if you’ve ever allowed fear to dictate your conversation. We have a very intense desire to keep our high self-regard. No one likes to admit they caved to fear. So we sanitize that realization through rationalization, excuses, and justification to keep us comfortably in line with our idealized self-image.

These five conditions and qualities that let us know and befriend our discomfort (which then make courageous conversations easier) are actually necessary for all fruit-bearing relationships. Another way to acquire competency  is to have grown up in homes and communities where these were the norm…but who’s been that fortunate? Most of us must practice self-awareness by stepping outside of ourselves for a helicopter view of ourselves. OK, not easy to do, but nobody promised that growth was easy.

If this is very clear, stop reading. If not, here’s a concrete example of observing your actions (behaviors) which can take you back to your congealed beliefs that have birthed the behavior.

Let’s say you’re mad at Sally. She “threw you over the cliff” at that last team meeting, you assert doggedly to yourself believing it’s the truth. You picture yourself and Sally in conversation . You notice you’re uncomfortable, so you know it’s a difficult conversation. Imagine yourself reducing the difficulty of an eventual conversation with Sally by having a courageous conversation with yourself first. It’s safe practice! With an open mind, heart and will, you’re poised to challenge your belief “Sally threw me over the cliff.” Did she really? If she had, would you be here to tell about it? So it must not be the truth. Hmm.

So what IS the truth? For purposes of becoming cool-headed, define the truth simply as what happened (or didn’t happen) in physical reality. In other words just the facts. Facts observed can help make us cool-headed. Maybe Sally broke a promise she made to you and brought information to the group you didn’t want them to have.  What meaning did you attach to her action? “She threw me over the cliff. Bad, disloyal Sally!” In other words you observe that you attached a disempowering interpretation to her behavior (she broke a promise) that facilitated your own behavior, namely avoiding a conversation with her. No wonder. How convenient. You already know the outcome of any conversation where someone accuses another of betraying them. So it’s smart and easy to justify not having it!

The truth (by our definition) is that Sally did what she did, and you did what you did.  That’s IT! You observe all that. Hmm. You wonder with your open mind, heart and will (aka courage!), “How else could this have gone if I didn’t have this interpretation?” “Might it be easier to have a conversation around Sally’s broken promise rather than about my judgment that Sally betrayed me?”  “It’s not the truth. It’s just my judgment, and I am free to have Sally’s broken promise mean something else.” Hmm.

You see that you’ve put yourself in position to observe your own as well as Sally’s behavior.  Great job! You‘re no longer only the actor. You’re both actor and helicopter-pilot-observer. A very powerful perspective.  It occurs to you that you can

  • acknowledge to Sally her broken promise
  • your dismay about that fact and…
  • ask Sally for a new promise. If Sally breaks it again, you can be more selective about the information you share with Sally in the future.


Does this example of working with your discomfort rather than against it open up new possibilities for having a difficult conversation which then is more likely to become a courageous conversation? Can you see more empowering possibilities? Which ones?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The UnGame , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and