By Tulsi van de Graaff, Partner, Brave People Solutions
BRAVE stands for:
Raise the issue
Too many times conflicts escalate, misunderstandings spiral out of control and relationships deteriorate because of a failure to have a BRAVE conversation. As human beings, each with our own distinct values, needs, history and communication style it is not surprising that we will experience differences of opinion, misunderstandings and conflict when we interact with others. Communication and strategically raising issues are the bridge to understanding and connection and yet too often this is not done well or not done at all. Here is a guide to help you have that BRAVE conversation and achieve greater understanding and connection with those around you.
Before you start to discuss any challenging issue, make sure you’re ready. Your focus is on managing any challenging emotions you have, becoming more aware of what you’re bringing to the issue and trying to understand the other person’s perspective. This could involve any of the following:
- Talk to a trusted friend, family member or colleague to get some perspective. Would they feel upset like you do? Can they see the other person’s perspective? What is that perspective? Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes if possible.
- Identify the emotions that you’re feeling. Share those emotions with a trusted person. The simple act of saying how you feel can help reduce those feelings a little.
- Look at why the issue has upset you. Are you more upset than the average person would be? If you are, it could be a ‘triggering’ issue for you. This means it could be reminding you of a past event, a past family issue or some trauma you have experienced in your life. If this is the case, there may be some more work for you to do. Getting support from a good counsellor is an excellent first step.
Now that you’re ready. Here’s the next step.
Raise the issue
It takes 5 seconds of bravery. In some ways raising the issue is the hardest part. You could try starting the conversation with a sentence like:
‘There’s something that’s been on my mind, and I wondered if we could have a chat about it. Would that be okay with you?’ or
‘I really value our friendship/relationship and there’s been something on my mind which I’d like to talk to you about, would that be okay?’ or
‘You might have noticed I haven’t been myself recently. I wanted to share what’s been on my mind if you’re okay with that’.
Notice that you’re not only raising an issue, you’re checking that it’s okay to talk about it at that moment. You might also want to add (if it’s appropriate and true) an additional acknowledging comment about what you appreciate and what’s good about your relationship. For example,
‘I know the issue isn’t really such a big deal and overall I think things have been really great
‘Overall I really appreciate our relationship and the way we interact and I want to raise this issue so it doesn’t get in the way’.
Often people associate assertiveness with raised voices and ‘in your face’ kinds of interactions. Assertive communication is actually about stating your needs, concerns and feelings…and you don’t have to have a loud voice. Here are some formulas you can use.
WHEN/CONTEXT… ‘The other day when we were talking about the project’
HOW YOU FEEL/FELT… ‘I felt like I didn’t have a chance to contribute in the way I’d like’
YOUR INTERPRETATION… ‘I may not be correct about this but my impression was that you had a clear idea of how you thought it should go and you weren’t that interested in what I had to say’
THE IMPACT/YOUR FEELING… ‘and I felt upset, not listened to and that you didn’t value my contribution’.
Another example and formula is:
‘I’VE NOTICED… that different times when you ask me to do something you say it with frustration and a tone and in front of others.
WHEN THIS HAPPENS I FEEL …humiliated and disrespected and I can’t think.
WHAT I’D LIKE… is for you to ask me to come into your office to talk about work so that we can work together and I understand what is needed’.
‘I’VE NOTICED… that when you’ve had a bad day you come home and have a cranky tone and complain about all the things that haven’t been done at home.
WHEN THIS HAPPENS I FEEL upset and like you don’t value how much I work and contribute to the home.
WHAT I’D LIKE… is for you to talk to me about your bad day and not talk about the house when you’re in a cranky mood. If you do want to talk about the house can we do that when we’re both in good moods so we can sort things out in a positive way’.
An important part of a BRAVE conversation is to ensure that you validate the other person’s perspective. It can be hard particularly if they or you feel defensive or angry. There are different ways to validate and it’s important to do it with care and awareness.
Options could be:
Acknowledging new understanding
‘I’m so glad I spoke to you because I now understand your perspective and it makes sense and I feel so much better. Thank you for being willing to speak with me’.
Checking you understand and paraphrase
‘So have I got this right? From your perspective…you thought I was frustrated with you and you reacted to that and cut the meeting short?’
‘I’m really sorry. I didn’t realise you were upset. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and make you feel like I wasn’t interested’.
Acknowledge your different perspectives and commitment to communicating more effectively
‘Wow. We come from very different perspectives, don’t we? I would really like to work out a better way of communicating together and to make sure I understand where you’re coming from’.
People often feel empathy but are not necessarily good at demonstrating it in their interactions. Empathy is critical to building a bridge of understanding and hopefully getting some resolution. Listening is an important part of this. Are you a person who tends to jump in to solve the problem? If so, you’ll need to really focus on listening. In order to demonstrate empathy, you’ll need to be able to understand the other person’s perspective – their situation and their emotion; and paraphrase it back to them. Here are two examples.
From everything you’ve told me I feel like I really understand now in a way that I didn’t before. (SITUATION) You’ve had so much work on recently, with competing demands and many projects (EMOTION/FEELING) and it has left you feeling overwhelmed, unsupported and at a loss as to how to manage everything’.
You might also comment on the impact – (IMPACT) so you’ve felt that you’re not at your best and that you’re not able to deliver in the way you would normally and that has meant that your interactions have been a bit more tense’.
(SITUATION) ‘When you come home after a really hard day, (EMOTION/FEELING) you feel even more overwhelmed when you walk into the house and things are all over the place’.
Using empathy in this way, will help the person you are engaging with feel supported and understood. If there is tension between you two at earlier stages in your BRAVE process, use empathy first and stay with it for as long as you need to.
Having an effective BRAVE conversation takes practice. It can also help to tell the person about your commitment to this new approach. For example, you could say
‘I really want to be open with you and work on understanding each other better. If you can be patient with me, I will really try my best to openly communicate with you and I hope you’ll do the same’.
It’s not easy, but the opportunities for connection and understanding are significant and could leave you feeling thankful that you were BRAVE enough to make the difference.
Tulsi van de Graaff is a communication and conflict resolution specialist and Partner at Brave People Solutions, working with individuals, teams and organisations to transform relationships, overcome conflict, deal with challenging behaviours, manage change and uncertainty and create a positive workplace culture. She is a former lawyer with a psychology background with experience in human rights, child protection, investigation, mediation, coaching, and counselling. Tulsi can be contacted on Tulsi.firstname.lastname@example.org