I am an optimist to a fault. Every personality test I take finds some way to describe me as risk-averse. I avoid bad vibes about as much as I avoid Lower Broadway during CMA Fest. So when Laura Weidman Powers came to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center to speak to us about her journey as CEO and co-founder of Code2040, I so wanted her to tell us that it’s been the most comfortable four years of her life; that every conversation she has ends with a new resolute advocate and that every person she encounters now stands alongside her in the fight.
Instead she tells us this: “You will need to learn to sit in the discomfort.”
That was not what I wanted to hear. I don’t like being uncomfortable. Stepping purposefully into tough conversations is not easy, but I have now learned it is necessary. Especially on the topic of inclusion.
When we talk about things like inequality, people don’t think about it abstractly or hypothetically. We immediately connect it with a time in our life when we were treated unfairly, without dignity, or with disregard, whether consciously or not. As a result, these topics always cause strong emotion. And as hard as it is for this idealist to have to look cynicism in the face, I learned to grit my teeth and do it.
In one situation specifically, the work that LeShane Greenhill and I are leading for the EC’s Diversity initiative was being questioned. The individual came to the conversation with emotional baggage from past experiences they had with us. A meeting that was intended to be fruitful—a way to learn more about our respective initiatives—became a meeting of assumption and accusation. I felt attacked and judged. They had it all wrong. I wanted them to know our intentions were pure. In all honestly, I just wanted to say a bold, direct response then leave.
But I stayed. I sat and listened and explained. I chose to be fully present in a conversation that was far from comfortable. And this is what I learned:
- Don’t go it alone: Sitting in the discomfort is easier said than done, but when you’re doing it, having a partner beside you to share the weight is essential. LeShane, the EC’s Code2040 Entrepreneur in Residence, embodies the definition of a partner.
- After discomfort comes growth: Every time you experience the fullness of a tense conversation and see it to the end, you grow. Little by little, with every hard conversation you become a stronger, braver, more empathetic person. One who sees the potential in every foreboding situation. One who knows that running from talking about the issue allows the issue to live on.
- Speak the truth: At the end of the day, you know your truth. Nobody else. Respond to assumptions and accusations with your truth. And grace.
- The importance of listening: We all just want to be heard. So listen. Affirm the importance of their voice and experiences by listening.