The beauty of uncomfortable conversations

Part of the mandate of Hacking Happiness is to tackle uncomfortable conversations. To take those topics we shy away from and give them a squeeze, an airing, a place to breathe. It’s difficult at times to describe why uncomfortable conversations are so important. And why they are so necessary.

But their value is immeasurable.

Here is an exploration of the idea of uncomfortable conversations and the beauty within

What are uncomfortable conversations?


Photo: Suvan Chowdhury

They are the moments where the air between a person’s comment and your response has that taut feeling. They’re the words we have to dig around for in our mind. As though we’re digging errant coins at the bottom of a deep, deep bag.

Uncomfortable conversations are ones we identify a need to let the light shine in. Instead, we shy away.

A while ago, I asked Glenn Murray to speak at a virtual seminar talking about social responsibility and its impact on business.

Glenn Murray is a writer. He rose to prominence for his detailed, extremely well researched blogs on Australian politics in 2014.

During the seminar, Glenn planted a seed for Hacking Happiness that will be germinating in the months to come. During the seminar, Glenn made an incredibly valid point about our refusal to talk about politics.

Why do we give air time to the things that are comfortable over the things that make an impact? Why, when something like politics is so important, do we encourage each other to speak less, not more about it?  

Something in Glenn’s words made a light bulb go off in my head.

It’s not only politics that receives this sort of treatment. We avoid conversations about job insecurity, mental health, failure, identity, culture and more.

Why is that? I mean, you can still treat a subject with respect and discuss it.

Why do we opt for silencing opinions as a community? Does it have to be that way?

Being uncomfortable has merit

Our discomfort rises when we’re challenged. David Bowie beautifully summed up that feeling of discomfort. He explained his view the better works come from a place where we are stretching ourselves. Creative innovation comes from the not knowing, the being unable to touch the bottom and the lack of safety net.

Indeed, creative artists and history are replete with stories of the person out of their comfort zone. We cherish the reluctant hero in our literature, films, mythology and song. Yet so few of us are willing to entertain the slightest moment of that lack of certainty in our daily lives and conversations. Why is that?

Think about life for a moment.

People are terrified every day and yet, we don’t back down.

Parenting is soaked in fear of the unknown and littered with uncomfortable conversations. Yet people choose to become parents every minute of every day.

Professional careers and all manner of self employment come with elephant sized swings of stress and happiness. Yet people still chase them.

Creative endeavours are rarely a perfect bed of roses for the elite or amateur alike. Yet despite the lack of money, fame and even respect, people write, sing, paint, dance, film and create projects.

Sporting careers come and go. Yet kids to the elderly, individuals to teams, local to Olympic level sporting people suit up, train hard and keep going.

Despite the weather, the burn of muscle and brain, the inherent risk, the lack of pay, the vulnerability and the amount of arse on the line, we try. We face off with rejection, humiliation and the size of the challenge to put ourselves out there. To achieve. To create. To leave a mark.

Why then do we not afford the topics of conversation that matter the most to us the same sort of collective understanding?

Why is it conventional wisdom to walk away from uncomfortable conversations? And to leave politics, social change and revolution out of our lives on an everyday level?

Moving the dialogue to the positive

It’s not that the subjects are off limits. It’s more that we don’t want to deal with the butting heads and lack of progress that often results.

Social media abounds with strong voices about uncomfortable conversations. They’re usually a few thin comments away from insulting those who counter them and have little to no value in the overall scheme of things. To air opinions to eventually argue is as far as much of it gets.

Yet we know most action starts with talking about the situation and exploring the possibilities. Those who work in activism understand that we need to first have those uncomfortable conversations to get to a place where action can happen.

The problem seems to be that the committed, thinking, change orientated individual is less sure of their answers. The buoyed voice that doesn’t believe in change is like the loud mouth in a focus group. They yell and stomp and crush the opponents.

Those who want to learn, understand and take action lack the confidence and the certainty. They lack that vehemence.

On the internet, it may be an issue. But in real life, herein lays the possibility.

The individual who doesn’t have all the answers and is aware of the vulnerability of their own beliefs. They are more likely to listen and to learn. Instead of being satisfied with the answers the desire to explore and optimism could be the catalyst for change.

You don’t have to like someone or agree 100% with what they say to be able to come together and make a change. What if you could learn from another person’s perspective and channel that gap in knowledge into learning? What if the vulnerability we feel when we aren’t so sure wasn’t hardened by ego or closed off to attack? What if it was accepted, cherished and nurtured to strength and maturity?

Imagine what could result then.

What are the uncomfortable conversations that define you?

Imagine you are at the pub, a dinner party, at the school sports carnival or sitting with a bunch of colleagues for lunch. Now think of the topics you dread in conversation.

Where do we step back from the brink because we feel as those it is unwinnable? What do those moments say about us and where do they leave the things we care about?

What if you could come together to talk through those uncomfortable conversations? And explore what it means to you with others who feel the same?

Could it be that you don’t have to know the answer to be able to make a difference?

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Photo By: Suvan Chowdhury

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