Courageous Conversations

By Katherine Eitel Belt


I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We don’t like doing it but we sometimes just don’t know or trust a better way. Am I speaking of our inability to resist that Krispy Kreme donut at the office? No, (though this paragraph would most likely apply nicely to that event) I’m speaking of the conversations in life that we avoid.

We avoid conversations that we should have… conversations that we need to have… because we’re afraid. Afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Afraid of negative, often unintended, outcomes. Afraid we might actually make things worse. And so, we avoid them. Stuffing down the words we want to say. Making light of something that’s actually important to us or continuing to trudge through something hard when even a small change could make it easier and better. Or even worse, feeling and acting like a victim when in reality we just aren’t willing to have those crucial conversations.

We often base our future on the results we’ve achieved in the past. Even when we sat down with someone with the best of intentions, a lot of these conversations did not go well. And so, we learned to avoid them. And the problem with avoiding, of course, is that the situation rarely resolves itself and typically gets worse over time which strengthens our irritation, confusion, or negative feelings, erodes openness and creativity, and weakens relationships.

I’d like to offer some hope that you actually can engage in these conversations and have a predictably better outcome than you’re imagining. I’d like to suggest that by recognizing and shifting a few limiting beliefs as well as adding a couple of tools to your tool belt, you can encourage and engage in more of these crucial and courageous conversations. Here are a couple of beliefs that have helped me:

  1. I never lose. I either win or I learn. I love this quote and in this context, it’s a particularly helpful belief. When you believe you have no way of losing… no matter how the conversation goes… and the only reality will be that you either have a good outcome for both parties or you learn something powerful about what works or what doesn’t, where you need more coaching and practice, or you’ll gain some new insights about the situation, then you’ll have more confidence to engage in and be courageous about these opportunities.
  2. Crucial information may be missing. And so, I try to listen first and talk second. For example, “Sara, I want to talk to you about how we are handling our end-of-day closing process. I have some concerns and some ideas about it but first, I’m wondering how you think we’re doing?” It’s amazing the helpful and enlightening information you learn which, at the least, shifts your perspective and heightens your empathy and, at most, causes you to change your mind completely.
  3. Where we agree is a good place to start. Finding where you agree is a much stronger platform from which to launch the conversation to that place where you don’t. For example, “Would it be fair to say, Sara, that we both want to get out of here as close to 5:00 as possible to get home to our families?” Most reasonable people will agree. The rest of the conversation will be a bit easier because it now seems in service to the foundational place of agreement.
  4. Judgement is a relationship killer. Very few things are actually good or bad, right or wrong. Most either work or don’t work for the situation at hand. Instead of speaking about people doing things wrong or bad, switch your word choice to “This doesn’t work for maintaining our value of excellent service.” Or “This just works better for supporting the team in accomplishing our goals.”
  5. Nobody HAS to do anything. We really can’t make people do anything. It’s much better to speak about choice and show respect for and complete confidence in the fact that most people will make the choice that is best for them. We can speak in a much less threatening way when we highlight the person’s choice to align with our values, company vision, team objectives, or even what I call my “non-negotiables.” For example, “Sara, one of my non-negotiables is that we are all here at 7:45 ready to go for the day. I completely understand that it may not be possible for you to be the kind of mother you want to be for your children every morning and get here by that time for work. I respect that very much. Only you will know the options available to you and only you can decide if you can do both. And I’ll fully respect whatever decision you make. If you decide to continue to work here, you would need to be committed to our team agreement of a daily start time of 7:45 a.m.” In other words, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to and certainly not anything that goes against a core value for you and to work here you would need to be here at 7:45 am. I’ll always be your champion in being “at choice” and in making the decision that is best for you. (Because, I’ve already made mine.)
  6. No two people will see the past the same. So it’s just better not to go there… but boy will the other person want to! Every time they go back, I go forward… meaning, when they say, “That’s not what I do!” (even if I don’t agree) I say, “Okay… and looking forward how can we create a way to ensure that it’s always done according to our agreement?”
  7. “And” is almost always a better word choice than “But.” Even in the example above, “and” is a better choice than “but.” “And” builds on the previous statement and “but” cancels it out.
  8. Creative solutions can surprise you. If you’re open and not married to being right, it’s amazing what two reasonable and thoughtful people can create. Go in with ideas and be open to the delightful surprise of an even better solution that you had originally.

These are just a few tips but all of them take practice. The world needs more non-judgmental, thoughtful, and courageous conversations. Our own professional and personal worlds need them too… and leaders go first. So, step up. Be courageous. Open your mind and open your heart. Step out of anger and take responsibility for not speaking about these things sooner. Go into the experience ready to learn and grow yourself. Be sincerely curious and creative about what’s possible. Be a champion for the other person, no matter the outcome.

On this Music Monday (always the first Monday of every month), I chose Say by John Mayer off the soundtrack from the motion picture, The Bucket List. I love his lyric:

“Even if your hands are shaking, and your faith is broken,
Even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open…
Say what you need to say.”

Be courageous. Say what you need to say.

John Mayer – Say

“Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all of your so-called problems,
Better put ’em in quotations
Say what you need to say [Repeat]

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you’d be better off instead,
If you could only

Say what you need to say [Repeat]

Have no fear for giving in
Have no fear for giving over
You’d better know that in the end
Its better to say too much
Then never say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say



Using creative, non-traditional methods, Katherine Eitel Belt helps professionals break through barriers and achieve phenomenal results. Her presentations help professionals communicate with more authenticity and effectiveness.


View Katherine’s full bio