Difficult Things About Difficult Discussions at Work

Difficult Things About Difficult Discussions at Work

I'm writing this post for those who struggle with discussing social/political or any other sensitive topics within their workspaces. Placing a ban on discussions is not the right approach. Instead, let's teach people on how to have deep, meaningful, and respectful discussions.

I'm obviously inspired by the whole Basecamp thing. The one thing we’re not seeing is the tone of the internal communication about difficult things. We just see how they decided to handle it.

Just to be clear, I'm all up for diversity and against most of the steps Jason and David decided to take.

You need to be open for discussion

Drawing from my past experiences, there have been times when I was taking part in sensitive discussions. The most difficult thing when discussing things you’re sensitive about or feel strongly about is not to dismiss the other side. Having a meaningful discussion is very different from having a heated argument.

Polarisation, and looking at things as being either black or white isn’t helpful. It’s really easy to call out people for their behavior, and if the tone is accusative or aggressive, they start playing defense…. and then there’s no conversation.

How to approach people

I honestly believe that once you approach people in a calm manner, without being accusative, and try to understand why they do some things the way they do, and get them to see another perspective is the way to grow. For both parties. But both parties have to be open to challenging their own views.

It’s easy to approach someone and say “That’s wrong”. Instead, “Hey, can you help me understand why you [think this, did that, you name it]?”

Postponing the discussion is also ok

There are days when the topic we care deeply about makes us too emotional and we instinctively “defend” our position. It’s crucial to recognize those moments and retreat, because hot-headed people can’t have a meaningful discussion. It also takes away a lot of energy.

In some instances, the other party may be too emotional as well. It's important to take that into consideration, and voice that you have nothing against them, and that you're just interested in learning about their perspective and understanding them better. If that doesn't help, postpone the conversation or just back away.

Opinions can change

To end it with some personal examples:

  • It took me years to figure out that the person I had so many heated arguments about LGBT rights and to whom I stopped talking to was struggling to come out. A couple of years ago that one approached me and actually apologized and thanked me for talking openly about some stuff on my FB account.

  • It also took me years to fully accept myself. This is why I also get why there are others who struggle to understand me or understand the struggles I face in my daily life.

Understand that people can grow and change their opinions, and that some people just view the world differently. It's all ok as long as we're all being respectful and not harming others in any way.

Things are never rarely black and white.