Our relationships are defined by the conversations we have—or do not have--with the people in our lives. How many times have you chosen not to speak up during a staff meeting for fear of being ostracized—or even fired?
You can assess the quality of your relationships by analyzing the quality of your conversations. For example, do you harbor resentment toward others or do you take a courageous stand to speak your voice and declare your true thoughts? Ask yourself these questions:
* How do I create my conversations with others?
* Am I willing to declare my feelings?
* Do I place blame instead of generating a new context for the relationship?
* Do I take responsibility to speak up and reveal the truth?
When you combine the original meaning of courage (“heart and spirit”) with authenticity (“genuine and real”), you get the true you! If you long to alter the context of your life, to break through and achieve your noblest aspirations, then courage and authenticity are your most important tools. Here’s how you can learn to converse using the language of courage:
* Begin to observe yourself. If you’re hesitant to share something you’ve determined should be shared, start the conversation with this phrase: “I want you to know that it takes courage to share that I …” This attention-getting opening sets the stage for a different kind of listening and helps you to be authentic.
Simply using the word “courage” to describe an action and outcome activates your voice and sets a context for positive action. A Courage Coaching client said, “I am so used to ‘filtering’ myself I almost forget I am doing it. My test of courage has been being able to share openly my deepest dreams and fears and true thoughts. With one exception in my life I have always kept a certain core totally to myself. Yet, when I was able to let go and candidly share this interior, I felt enormously liberated.” This sixty-one-year-old client yearns to speak from his heart to be real-to-life. When his final time comes, he does not want to be filled with resentment. Resentment festers in the realm of abuse—to you and others, such as lying, gossiping or greed. The residual is lost courage.
* Notice when you feel regret about not speaking up. In an article on learning to speak up, a newspaper editor said she still lives with the regret of not taking a stand over a horrible incident she witnessed in a high school gym 20 years ago. “I should have offered her some compassion,” the editor said. “I guess I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse. I failed my schoolmate that day, and I’m sorry. But I’m also grateful to her, because the incident she endured taught me to never be silent again.” It takes courage to speak up and halt an injustice–and to speak out on your own behalf.
An executive coaching client of mine was grateful for the opportunity to be considered for a COO position, but she lacked the courage to speak up and state why she was the best person for the job–and the opportunity was lost. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
* Watch out for the phrase I wanted to say. Dining in a restaurant one evening, I overheard a conversation between two women at a nearby table. They were discussing an incident at work and one confided to the other, “I wanted to say …” and her friend finished the thought, “But you didn’t.” Many people are reluctant to speak up with an opposing view because they fear the consequences. But courage dictates that you must be willing to put your principles into action.
One of my clients, a woman who was a senior banker, was passed over for promotion even though she’d posted the highest sales record and was next in line to move up the ladder. When the job went to a less-qualified man, she had the courage to say, “I quit–on principle!” She decided to give up her job, but keep control of her life.
Conversing with courage takes conscious choice and effective action. But the result is a life without regret. As Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Mary Oliver said so eloquently in “When Death Comes”:
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I had made of my life something particular, and real
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Listen to your heart and choose to transform yourself through language. Find the courage to converse with authenticity.
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