A few years ago, I cancelled my cable subscription. I had kept it far too long because every time I called to cancel it the sales person on the other end of the line would remind me that I had a bundled package with my internet service which was only a little bit more a month than interwebs alone. Then they would give me some sort of incentive that gave me premium channels for another 6 months and the cycle would continue.
When I made that final call to ACTUALLY cancel my cable, it was different. It was different because my reason for canceling was different. I cancelled my cable to save myself from my bad viewing habits. I had realized that the only things I was watching on live television were home renovation shows with amazing before and after moments and The Real Housewives of anywhere, you name it, and I watched it. Now, while I do love a big reveal and a discovery of shiplap behind plaster, I do not love the fact that I had become immune to the forced conflict of women behaving badly towards one another for my viewing pleasure. I watched women scream at one another, throw drinks, flip tables, smash cakes, and be generally vile. I watched as conflict became “reality.” The level of schadenfreude I experienced was not worth the pangs of guilt I felt as a feminist, human, and educator.
Regardless of the previous failed attempts to cut the cord, I made the call. It was difficult to say no to all the offers of free HBO and extended discounts, but this time the difficult conversation of saying no to a cable provider was made much easier because the reason for cancelling was worthy of the difficult conversation.
I provide this somewhat silly example above because I think it highlights some ideas I have for having difficult conversations in general both with classes, individual students, and colleagues.
I am by no means an expert in this field, but I am always working towards being an advocate and accomplice in the face of systemic oppression which means lending my voice to some difficult conversations. Since I am a fan of lists, here is my list of are some of the thoughts I have had when thinking about difficult conversations:
1. Pick your battles.
Not everything needs to be addressed all of the time. We must decided which difficult conversations are even worth having. This can be anything from cell phone use in the classroom to microaggressions. You have to decide whether you are safe to have a conversation, and if your audience is receptive to hearing. And yes, sometimes we need to speak up even if our audience isn’t receptive to hearing what we have to say. My point is that when presented with a choice of whether or not you want to have a discussion you can make that decision.
2. Know your limits.
This goes hand in hand with pick your battles. Knowing what you care about how far you are willing to take that conversation will make it easier to set boundaries in difficult conversations.
3. Be mindful of outcomes
When having a difficult conversation, I find it helpful to keep in mind the outcome I desire. Am I looking for action or am I simply looking to be heard? Knowing what I want to gain from the conversation helps me to keep focused on the task at hand.