By Caprice D. Hollins, Psy D and Ilsa Govan
A question we regularly grapple with at Cultures Connecting is what does it mean to live out our values and practice cultural competence? On a daily basis we come face to face with our own socialization around race, gender, class, religion, and multiple other factors that make up our identities. We also work within systems that privilege some at the expense of others. This shows up in our relationship with each other.
It is painful when we realize we've been behaving in ways that contribute to the problems we are working to change, especially when the people who we’ve offended or those who offend us are those we care about the most. This makes it all the more challenging to engage in a conversation, for fear of harming the relationship in some way.
We know that attacking creates enemies and avoiding the conversation leads to inauthentic relationships where eventually two people who once cared about one another grow apart. To nurture our relationship, we sometimes find ourselves having to engage in courageous conversations in spite of our fears, knowing the risk is much greater when we don’t. Here are some things that we try to keep in mind that you may find helpful.
When bringing up a concern to the other, we do our best to…
- Take time to critically reflect before bringing up the concern so that you are able to own your part in why you see and experience it the way you do and how you may have contributed to the problem.
- Wonder why the person said or did what they did. What do you know to be true about them that would lead them to behave in that way? Is it cultural? Is it socialization? Is it intentional? Are they aware?
- Talk to others who you know won’t automatically agree with you, who won’t villainize the other person and who will give you open and honest feedback that will help you figure out how to best approach the situation.
- Stumble through telling the other person what you felt or experienced in a loving and caring way that shows concern for their well-being, in spite of whatever issue you may have with them in the moment. In other words, this is not all of who they are, just a part of what they are bringing into the relationship at this time in your journey together.
When the other brings a concern to our attention, we do our best to…
- Suspend our intentions and focus on the impact of our words, behaviors or actions that caused them hurt or harm.
- Refrain from responding impulsively or out of defensiveness or anger and when necessary, take time to think about what they are telling you so that you have time to reflect on what is truth and where you see it differently.
- Own what you have said or done that you agree needs to change in you and make an honest effort to do so.
- Thank the other for taking the risk to tell you. Acknowledge that you know it wasn’t easy for them to tell you just like it wasn’t easy for you to hear.
Regardless of whether we are sharing a concern or hearing a concern, there will be times when it is not handled well by one or both of us. In these cases, one of us will try to circle back around and readdress the issue in a way that shows we have taken the time to think about how we showed up in the conversation. The second time around we usually do a much better job leading to an outcome that honors the dignity and humanity of both of us.
This process is sometimes a messy and painful challenge that we would both prefer to avoid. However, having courageous conversations helps us stay true to our core values. It demonstrates to the other person that we are committed to continuously investing in the relationship more than we are invested in our fears or holding on to our feelings of righteousness.
We practice this regularly with each other, and it is part of what keeps Cultures Connecting vibrant.