Brave conversations are difficult by definition. The following ground rules and facilitation tips can help. As with any challenging task, practice helps immensely. If you stumble (and you will), acknowledge and apologize for the mis-step and keep trying. You can do this!

Ten Ground Rules for Brave Conversations

  1. Come with genuine curiosity.

  2. Start by assuming good intentions.

  3. Speak with compassion and thoughtfulness.

  4. Value the other person’s thoughts.

  5. Listen without thinking how you are going to respond.

  6. Be aware of non-verbal communication.

  7. Try to understand from where the other person is coming.

  8. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

  9. Honor confidentiality- what is shared here, stays here.

  10. Disagree with ideas, comments, or beliefs but not with the person.

*If at any point, you feel the conservation isn’t safe or can’t be productive, either person has the right to end the conversation.

Facilitating Brave Conversations

Step One: Build Rapport

  1. Start with brief introduction.

  2. From a place of genuine curiosity, ask their opinion on the issues.

  3. Ideally, you want them to do more than restate their belief, you want them to reveal the underlying factors, such as their deeper values or experience that inform their opinion.

    “Can you tell me more about how you first came to feel that way?”

    “Do you remember a time in your life that informed your opinion on this?”

  4. As the person shares their view, find at least one idea within their perspective that you can agree or identify with and note it.

Step Two: Focus the Conversation

  1. Try starting the conversation with a point of agreement identified above.

    “I can hear that (idea) is important to you; I agree with you that that is an important consideration.”

    “I may not agree with (problematic idea) but I do share your belief that (embedded point of agreement).”

  2. Listen for and acklowledge underlying needs embedded within what the person is saying.

  3. Discuss and address the underlying concerns or values that inform the beliefs.

  4. If it feels right, relate a personal story that invites them to a new understanding of the issue. Be as personal and authentic as possible.

    For example, consider sharing a time when you came from a similar viewpoint but changed your mind. This might relate to a bias you know about yourself, a belief that you held and are working on disabling, or a time when you weren’t aware of the importance or impact of an issue on others.

    Be prepared with a story that supports the idea that significant progress on the issue has been made over the last several decades, which underlies many people’s belief that there is no longer a problem. Use this as a way of connecting and building rapport, then explain where gaps still exist that need to be addressed.

  5. Throughout the conversation, continue to listen for experiences similar to your own and more points of agreement. Also be aware of potential openings for future conversations.

Step Three: How to Conclude

  1. Thank the person for engaging in the conversation (even if difficult and/or no agreement reached).

  2. Reflect back areas of agreement or things they are still considering.

  3. Ask how they experience went for them. If the conversation did not go well, you can consider asking them to acklowledge any discomfort.

  4. If you feel there is an opening for more fruitful discussion, consider setting up a time for future dialogue.