Courageous Communication

No assumptions. We’re completely tabula rasa. From the beginning, it’s understood that we’re all just going to find out together.

~ Dave Pasquesi, Improvisor

Dave Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski are two of the most famous improvisers in the world. They perform an improvised one-hour play together every week, as they have for the past decade and a half. When they step out onto the stage, they don’t know what characters they will play or what’s about to happen. They haven’t brainstormed beforehand. All they have is their trust in themselves, one another and their relationship. They have perfected the art of showing up and opening themselves to the moment, without manipulation.

Now, imagine that you’re an improviser like Dave or TJ, stepping out onto a stage with no script. Really picture it! You have no costume, no props, no clue as to the story you’re about to perform. The audience is clapping, expectantly. Anticipation is mounting. Is there a little pit starting to form in your stomach?

What does courage mean to you?

When asked to picture someone with courage, you might think of superheroes, firefighters or ancient warriors. People who put themselves in physical danger.

But at its core, courage is simply the ability to do something that frightens you, and often the thing that frightens us the most is communication.

Courage can be thought of as the ability to do something that makes you feel vulnerable, something that — in the beautiful words of Brené Brown — makes you feel “seen, really seen.” It’s the ability “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart” (double hat tip to Brené Brown).You don’t need to be in physical danger to use courage. Everyday situations require courage of us all.

When is the last time you used courage?

For many of us, communicating authentically at work (and outside of work) often takes courage. Meetings don’t go as planned. Conversations veer off track. Emails are misinterpreted. We sometimes stumble when expressing the things that matter most. Whether sharing gratitude, celebrating accomplishments, delivering important news, giving honest feedback, asking for help, addressing conflict or setting boundaries, communication is hard when there isn’t a script. Yet, these situations can also be a source of incredible power, creativity and excitement. Facing the unknown in everyday communication requires mindfulness, self-knowledge and courage.

At interstory, we use the term courageous communication to describe the skill of navigating these situations with confidence, grace and mastery. Courageous communication is what we use to push through the awkwardness and stress of difficult (or even amazingly positive) interactions to discover all of the potential that lies within them — and within ourselves.

Courageous communication is about standing at the edge of the unknown, moment to moment.

It’s about being aware of, open to and responsive to whatever is really, truly happening. Right now. In this very moment. Between you and the people you’re with. It’s about being present to what is, rather than what you desire, expect or think should be happening. It’s about getting in touch with your own needs and feelings, expressing your intentions openly and transparently and listening with your whole self to the people you’re with and the situation you’re in.

Easier said than done, admittedly. Yet, courageous communication is well worth the effort. With practice, you can learn to represent your true self in any situation, while at the same time respecting and understanding people who are very different than you. You can learn how to work collaboratively with a wider variety of people, become more creative, establish clear boundaries and respond effectively in crises. In short, you can gain the confidence required to handle any situation.

And when everyone on your team is practicing courageous communication with you, your team’s learning, growth and impact will reach new heights.

Our recipe for courageous communication has five parts. It includes the following:

  1. Commitment: What are you really committed to? Be honest with yourself.
  2. Curiosity: What’s going on for the other person? What’s going on for you?
  3. Clarity: What do you need? What does the other person need?
  4. Collaboration: How are you going to work together? Be intentional and specific!
  5. Creativity: How many different ideas and solutions can you find? Can you push yourselves beyond the most obvious solutions?

We’d like to leave you with the following questions for reflection.

  1. What’s the most courageous conversation you’ve ever had?
  2. What enabled you to draw on that courage?
  3. Where do you need more courageous communication in your life now?
  4. Which of the five Cs (i.e., commitment, curiosity, clarity, collaboration or creativity) would be most helpful to you now?

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