“When you squeeze an orange, what comes out of it? Orange juice. Why? Because that’s what’s inside it….When we get squeezed—when things aren’t going well for us—what comes out of us? Whatever’s inside of us,” explains Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations. No matter what emotions, thoughts and values we may consciously or unconsciously hide within ourselves, our truths are a part of our make-up. It’s who we are. “Most of us don’t go around consciously violating our values, nor do we spend our days obsessively checking: ‘Okay, am I in or out of integrity?’” Scott explains, “However, if your behavior contradicts your values, your body knows, and you pay a price at a cellular level.”

Why don’t we share our thoughts and values more freely with others? Are we fearful of being judged? Do we worry about the conversation’s impact on others? Do we have a fear of the unknown? Are the stakes high? “Perhaps you’re too polite. Or too self-conscious. Or too self-absorbed. Or too politically correct. Or too cautious,” suggests Scott, “The net result? Unconsciously, we end our conversations as soon as we initiate them, too afraid of what we might say or fear.” Scott challenges us to “come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.” She encourages us to participate fully and authentically in conversations and reminds us that “after all, your version of reality is as good as anybody’s.”

“We can have the conversations needed to create the results we say we want in our lives, or we can have all of our reasons why we can’t have those conversations,” suggests Scott, “we can’t have both. Reasons or results.” The good news is that we have the option to choose. If we choose to be courageous and have the conversation we will feel good, in part, because we know that we have seized the opportunity to boldly voice our truths despite the vulnerability conversation creates.

So, where do we muster this conversational courage? “In part,” Scott submits, “simply by recognizing that if you chicken out now, you’ll pay the price later. Recognizing that if you or someone else feels a conversation is needed, it is. If a sensitive or significant topic comes up unbidden, seize the moment.” These types of conversations need to take place for your own and others well-being.

While it may be more comfortable, initially, to avoid or postpone a conversation or to downplay its importance, doing so will delay what inevitably will surface. Scott says that when we shy away from expressing our truths, incremental degradation of the relationship with others occurs. “If we compromise at work or at home; if we lower the standards about how often we talk, what we talk about, and, most important, what degree of authenticity we bring to our conversations—it’s a slow and deadly slide.” In actuality, we don’t know what people are thinking unless they tell us and Scott reveals that “if asked, most people avow that they want to hear the truth, even if it is unpalatable.”

All conversation and confrontation, Scott asserts, is a search for the truth. “Who owns the truth? Each of us owns a piece of it, and nobody owns all of it.” We owe it to ourselves to get the fullest and largest sense of real-life actuality by having everyone share their truths. Scott reminds us that we live in a world where multiple, competing realities exist simultaneously: where “this is true and this is true and this is true.” As Anne Lamott writes, “Reality is unforgivingly complex.” To be successful in our relationships with others, we must master the courage to interrogate reality. We must hold the conversation. As Ken Blanchard says in the Fierce Conversations foreword, “While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a business, a marriage, or a life, any single conversation can.” The conversation is, in itself, the gift of relationship; a ripe opportunity not to be missed.

By Kerry Tay McLean, Ombuds Program Administrator
University of Colorado Boulder Ombuds Office