April 15, 2015

Leaning into Difficult Conversations.


In many ways I have been a coward.

So often it has been difficult for me to speak up for myself, hold my ground, and tell it like it is from my perspective. Perhaps this was partly my upbringing, the one in which children should be seen but not heard, and should definitely remain silent at the dinner table.

But I am certainly old enough and have meditated long enough to see hesitation and the tendency to shy away from difficult conversations as part of my path.

In the spirit of sharing, this is what I have learned.

Of course it’s easy and even enjoyable to tell dear friends or coworkers what we like or appreciate about their behavior, personality, or work. But when we need to offer negative feedback, it’s often difficult. Because we care or have the responsibility of letting such individuals know our concerns, it can be a practice, as Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged us, “to lean into the sharp edges of experience.”

By changing our attitude of dread or avoidance, giving feedback can even become a form of generosity.

If our intention is to be beneficial, it can be a gift to let people know how we experience them.

First, it is important to refrain from commenting on what someone cannot change.

Second, it is helpful to slow down and see when there is openness. Attacking someone in the hallway or in front of others or at the end of a long day as someone is leaving is not skillful. Be considerate in the timing, and even then ask if the individual would appreciate some feedback at this time or at another.

Be specific, not judgmental.

Because it is difficult to hear critical feedback, offer a balanced view. Find positive things to say about the individual, so that the more negative areas are seen as areas for improvement or growth.

Avoid blaming. Acknowledge whatever part you may have played in the situation. Were you clear enough in your expectations, requests, or directions?

Being as direct but as relaxed as possible relieves a great deal of tension built up by not speaking. But if you anticipate a volatile situation, consider a mediator or 3rd party neutral person to witness or guide the exchange.

Offering constructive criticism is not a “hit and run” affair. Stay present for the response. By remaining open, both parties can mutually learn from the situation. At the very least, you have practiced verbal bravery and honesty.

Offer what you have to say, listen for any response, and let go. It is up to your friend or co-worker to take the criticism as constructive or not. Even in a work situation, it does not help to be attached to a certain outcome.

When we give and receive feedback in this way, it can be a practice of kindness.



Buddhism Made Me a Jerk.

Reaching out for Compassion.



Author: Linda Lewis

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Clément at Flickr 

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