You can now listen to the latest episode of “Conversations with Student Affairs,” the podcast managed by the Student Affairs team at Penn State World Campus in collaboration with our many colleagues and partners across the University’s Student Affairs teams.
Title: Tough Talks
Participating guest: Denita Wright Watson, Associate Director for Equity, Inclusion, and Advocacy at Penn State World Campus Student Affairs
Summary: Denita shares some important tools you can use for navigating a difficult conversation and provides tips on how to prepare emotionally and physically. Also, learn how can you bring your authentic self to the conversation.
Three interesting or helpful takeaways from this episode:
It’s okay to feel awkward about a difficult conversation. “We need to identify and validate your feelings about the awkwardness,” Denita says. “Understand what’s causing the feelings of uneasiness and know that it’s OK.”
Challenge yourself in a good way. “If the talk is just giving you a glimpse of something new from a different lens that you’re not accustomed to, then the discomfort that comes from that isn’t a bad thing, because that’s when you’re growing,” Denita says. “That’s when you know that you’re growing, you’re going outside of your normal comfort zone.”
Preparation makes a big difference. When planning for a challenging conversation, Denita says being prepared can help better achieve a positive outcome. “Establish what you want to accomplish because this will help you stay on task and help you to be able to frame what you want to say.” Denita adds that it’s important to know your own trigger points. “Be prepared to calm yourself down so that you’re responding in the conversation rather than reacting.”
Catch up on all episodes:
- World Campus Office of Care and Concern — this team is available to help students who are facing challenges such as academic concerns or medical emergencies
- Infographic: Navigating Difficult Conversations — follow this step-by-step approach to handling challenging discussions on race and identity
- Blog Post: How to Respond If You’ve Committed a Microaggression — if you’ve inadvertently committed a microaggression, here’s how you should (and shouldn’t) respond
Podcast Transcript: Tough Talks
JEN TOOF: Welcome to Conversations with Student Affairs. I am your host, Jen Toof. Today we are joined by one of my colleagues, Denita Wright Watson, for our Conversations with Student Affairs episode. We are going to be talking about conversations, and we’re going to be talking about talks, which is perfect for a podcast episode. And so, Denita, would you– I know you’ve been on some of our episodes before. So if we have any new listeners, would you like to give a brief introduction about yourself?
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Sure, Jen, thank you. So my name is Denita Wright Watson, and I’m the Associate Director of equity, inclusion, and advocacy for World Campus student affairs, and I’m really glad to be here with you. Thanks for having me.
JEN TOOF: Thanks Denita. We’re used to having many of our colleagues on our conversation, but I thought for today, it could be you and I. Because lots of times, we’re also working with students, we’re working with colleagues, on really difficult conversations, or how to approach different topics. So I can definitely see future episodes where we can invite some students on, some of our colleagues. So listeners, if you would like to join us in a tough talk or a conversation about difficult topics, definitely let us know, and we’ll have our contact information out at the end of the episode.
Denita, we’ve always done our “if you could,” segment. And usually I asked the same “if you could,” questions to our guests, because I think they are great get to know you’s for our listeners. But seeing as how you have been on a handful of episodes already, I’m going to mix this up for you. So if you could have a conversation with anyone in the world, who would you have a conversation with?
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Jen, you know you really got me with that one. I would say– and you said that they– wait, did you say that they could be living or not living?
JEN TOOF: They can be living or not living. So any person, any time in the world. You could go back 200 years in history if you wanted to.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Yeah, you know what, I’m going to cheat a little bit. I’m going to take a bit of a liberty, OK, because you asked for a person. I’m going to say my grandparents, and my great grandparents.
JEN TOOF: Mm-hmm.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: And the conversation that I would have with them, I would tell them about everything that our family is doing, that they have a wonderful granddaughter and great-granddaughter. I would tell them all about her. I would tell them that we’ve seen our first African-American president. I think that would really blow their minds, given–
JEN TOOF: It would.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: –Their lifetime and what they grew up with, some of the things they experienced. I think that would just be so amazing to them. So yeah, I would just want to tell them everything that’s going on, and tell them that there is so much that I think they would be so proud of. So yeah, so my conversation would be with four people.
JEN TOOF: I’m very fortunate to still have some grandparents in my life. But before you even mentioned yours, I was thinking about the ones who have passed. That is who I would have a conversation with as well, because my grandparents were always about looking to the future and making positive change and wanting to see all the good in the world. And to know how much they have not been able to see, so yeah, very similar in that sentiment. And I feel a little choked up that we were sharing a moment here.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely. At first, my mind went to the quote unquote “usuals,” like a celebrity or a former first lady, former President. But when I really thought about it, I’m like, no, I’d want to talk to my family, and tell them about everything that’s going on. And tell them about our daughter, who they didn’t get to see, my daughter, and tell them about her, so yeah.
JEN TOOF: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Thank you.
JEN TOOF: Well, thank you for sharing, Denita.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely.
JEN TOOF: All right, we’re going to move into our student affairs snapshots segment. And so this is oftentimes when we get into conversations, or even sometimes when I’m hosting an episode, it’s about finding the right words for a conversation. And since we’re discussing tough talks, sometimes there’s hidden dangers in messages that could be written. Sometimes there’s hidden feelings in hidden messages, or hidden feelings in written messages.
And so I know you and I have talked about this often just in the work that we do. But what I can personally reflect back for me, for my career that I’ve engaged in a lot of difficult conversations. And from my perspective, many of us avoid conflict to keep a peaceful order. We’ve all had those times where we received an email, and we just couldn’t believe how disrespectful the person was communicating.
We’ve all had those times on social media where we needed to decide if what we were going to respond with, were we going to respond to that keyboard warrior? And if anybody could see me right now, I feel like I’m violently typing on a keyboard when thinking about that keyboard warrior. Or am I going to walk away from responding, right? That walk away always seemed like a very difficult action item to take.
And when we read written words that often offend us, they definitely upset us, but they give us that shock factor of, wow, I can’t believe someone would say that to me, especially publicly, or even privately. And these could be people that you don’t know or people that you’ve never crossed paths with, or people that you see every day.
We sometimes automatically want to assume that the person had the intention to go out and purposely offend– to purposely offend us.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Yes.
JEN TOOF: We think that they purposely set out to disrespect us. Or did they purposely set out to send us disrespectful messages? Because that’s what we think, we often think about the negative intention versus the positive intention. And what happens when there was no purposeful intention to these written words, right? It’s just that feeling that comes through when we see them.
And so what is also interesting is when you read mean things that might be written about you or said to you, you read that communication, and that it always appears disrespectful, and that you can sometimes read them with the tone that you think that that sender had versus what they meant. And so my question to our listeners to ponder and think about is, what’s the positive return for you to engage in a real life conversation with a person who you believe through their written words, sent a disrespectful sounding message that may have offended or may have made you feel really uncomfortable? How do you release those feelings in a tough talk? How do you move forward for yourself and not carry that weight of that awkwardness.
And if I add a light sentiment to this as well, for any of our listeners that want to check out something, there was a late night talk show host who would have celebrities go on and read mean tweets about themselves. And so if anybody’s looking for something, some form of release in a good way, I highly recommend going and checking out what late night talk show hosts would have had those different segments.
So that’s my student affairs snapshot for this week, is knowing that I can reflect back about what I’ve personally experienced. And I know what my colleagues have also experienced as well, and it doesn’t feel like any one person is immune from receiving messages that feel disrespectful. Denita, I don’t know if you have anything you want to add into the snapshot. I know we work regularly on messages like this as well.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: No, you’re– I’m there with you. And I was talking to myself that whole keyboard warrior image, because I’m guilty. I’ve had my moments.
JEN TOOF: We all are guilty of that.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: I’ve had my angry thumb moments, my little angry fingers clicking away. I like to think that I’ve grown. But yes, we’ve all gotten caught up. Someone might say something on social media that struck a nerve. And then we felt like we had to be heard, we had to get our point across. So yes, I’ve been there. Yes.
JEN TOOF: Mm-hmm.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: You’re not alone.
JEN TOOF: We have all definitely had our buttons pushed, and we’ve pushed buttons while also on the other end.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Right. But we’ve grown.
JEN TOOF: We have. And we hope our episode today allows for more growth for anybody who is looking to grow or to gain further understanding. And so what I’m going to share with our listeners is how did we get to this episode and this talk today? Denita, I have had the opportunity to attend one your presentations that you had for World Campus students where you talked about tough talks. How to approach them, the considerations to have, and I thought they fit perfectly into our segments. And we are going to take the content that you delivered out in a presentation and filter them into our podcast episode today.
And so, for our on the corner segment, I thought it was really important that we discuss those intersecting topics that I was able to see in your presentation. And there’s that intersection of when a person knows that they need to say something, and then there’s that awkwardness that comes with taking that step. And so in your presentation you shared the importance of identifying and validating our feelings about the awkwardness. Can you share with us the three questions that we should be asking ourselves?
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely, Jen. And again, thank you for letting me have this opportunity. I would say, when entering a difficult conversation, it’s important to, like you said, I– we need to identify and validate your feelings about the awkwardness. Understand what’s causing the feelings of uneasiness, and know that it’s OK, that it’s OK to feel how you’re feeling. And you want to assess those feelings. It’s OK to feel that awkwardness.
The questions that you mentioned, the first one, you want to identify, you want to ask yourself are you safe having this conversation? Or are you in any danger? You want to make sure that you’re in a physically and emotionally safe space to have an open and honest dialogue. So safety comes first. You want to make sure that it’s safe to proceed with this conversation that you’re going to have.
And then, once you’ve identified if it is safe to proceed, you want to ask yourself in the conversation, am I stretching myself or am I being threatened? Am I being stretched or threatened? And what I mean by that is, this is where you want to ask yourself, is the conversation making me feel– is it going in a direction where I feel that I’m in harm’s way? Am I feeling threatened? Or is it just stretching me outside of my normal comfort zone?
Because if the talk is just giving you a glimpse of something new from a different lens that you’re not accustomed to, then that– the discomfort that comes from that isn’t a bad thing, because that’s when you’re growing. That’s when you know that you’re growing, you’re going outside of your normal– your normal box.
That’s when we challenge ourselves. Because if we remain comfortable all the time in conversations, then we’re stagnant. That means there’s no growth. So you always want to strive for growth. So if you’re being stretched, not a bad thing, not a bad discomfort.
JEN TOOF: I feel my patience growing all the time in that stretched away. When that seems to be that spot where, when we receive those communications, the instinct is to feel threatened. But really, most times we are stretched. And it’s that patience, and also that compassion to think about the circumstance, as well.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. And I can see where that, at first, when we feel that twinge of discomfort, it kind of brings pause. And it’s not a good feeling at first, because we like to feel comfortable. Who doesn’t want to feel comfortable? But when you’re faced with a new way of thinking, a new idea a different viewpoint, that you just have to ask yourself, OK, is this harming me?
No, it’s not harming me. It’s just forming– it’s just making me consider something that I hadn’t considered before. So that’s, that– that’s the line. So, yeah, so that’s where discomfort isn’t always a bad thing. We think it’s bad at first because it feels weird, but it’s not a bad– not a bad thing.
And so the last thing I would say that we should ask ourselves is, during a conversation, am I challenging in a healthy way, or am I trying to be controlling? And what I mean by that, so the best way to enter a difficult conversation is with an open mind and an open heart, and willing to hear the other person out. The goal isn’t to talk at someone, or talk down to them, or put someone down, because that’s a quick way for the conversation to go off the rails really, really quick.
When you’re able to calmly listen to someone, and then ask questions to gain a better understanding, then the other person is more likely to hear you out and, as well, and reciprocate. So it’s OK to challenge. When I say challenge, ask questions. Ask questions to get a better understanding so that you can take in what they’re saying and understand where they’re coming from. Not– you don’t want to control. You want to challenge in a healthy way. Ask questions, but listen. That’s very important.
JEN TOOF: Listen is the key. Especially, you can be listening when you are reading something that is written, because it could be taking a pause. It could be taking a moment to identify the three questions that you just asked. Listening can happen in different forms.
OK, so Denita, our next segment is our toolbox for success. We try to keep our segments to be about five to seven minutes, but you had such great content in your presentation that I have three different areas that I want to cover in our toolbox for success. So for our listeners, our toolbox for success is going to be a little bit expanded time wise for this episode, because I don’t want to leave anything out in this initial episode that we are doing with learning about the content that Denita has been delivering to students.
And so, we’re navigating these tough talks. We’re navigating these conversations. And the first tool for preparing in these conversations is preparing emotionally and physically for a tough conversation. And so, Denita, you had five different things that you had shared in this area of your presentation. Could you share with our listeners what those five areas were?
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely, Jen. Thank you. So preparation is so important, Jen. Preparation is the key. So this helps you go into the conversation a little less nervous. You might be nervous going in because of the nature of the conversation. And again, like we said, that’s normal. That’s OK. But when you prepare, just like when you prepare for anything, it helps bring the nerves down a little bit. So preparation is key.
I would say, establish what it is that you want to accomplish. Establish that early on, because this will help you stay on task and help you to be able to frame what you want to say. So establish what you want to accomplish from the beginning. Also important, I would say, is just know your trigger points. Know what really gets at you. What’s–
JEN TOOF: So important.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Exactly. Know ahead of time, be honest with yourself. Know what knocks you off your square, and be prepared to calm yourself down so that you’re responding in the conversation rather than reacting. When we react rather than respond, reacting is what gets us in trouble. Reacting is usually when we say that first thing that comes to our head, the thing that we wish we could put back in our mouth after we said it. Been there, right?
JEN TOOF: Yep.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: So you want to know what gets you going, and be able to respond rather than react. Calm yourself down. You want to be able to form a thoughtful response. And in order to do that, the next thing I would tell you is deep breaths. You want to breathe. You want to take deep breaths before you speak. And that might sound like something that people, Oh, people always say remember to breathe. Well, that’s because it’s true.
JEN TOOF: Mm-hmm.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Always remember to breathe, because it– one, it calms you down. It helps you become more grounded. It calms you down. It lowers your blood pressure, because normally when you get going, when someone says something that triggers you, what’s the first thing that usually happens? You can feel your heart about to pound out of your chest.
JEN TOOF: Yep.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Everyone’s been there.
JEN TOOF: Yep.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: So taking those deep breaths helps to slow your heart rate down, lowers your blood– lowers your blood pressure out. And it gives you time to prepare your response, because again, you want to respond rather than react. So when you take that deep breaths, those deep breaths, it buys you that time that you need to calm yourself down and to formulate a thoughtful response.
And also, I would say, you want to establish your tone at the beginning, a calm, normal tone at the beginning. And just try to maintain that throughout the conversation. Because you’ve seen conversations where someone starts out in their normal tone, their normal speaking voice, but then as they get escalated, the voice gets louder and louder and louder.
JEN TOOF: Louder doesn’t mean you’re more important.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Exactly, and louder doesn’t make you right, it just makes you loud. So you want to maintain your tone. You want to be as calm as possible. You want to maintain that tone. And when you do raise your voice, either two things are going to happen.
Either the person is going to tune you out and maybe walk away from you because they don’t want to continue this conversation with you, or they’re going to start yelling back. They’re going to give you that loud tone right back. Either way, the conversation, the communication is broken, the opportunity is lost, and no one gets anywhere. So you want to stay calm. Keep your voice at an even level.
JEN TOOF: I think about every conversation when you were just going through that. And so, I’m giving you my attention but I’m also thinking back, yes, and our listeners might be doing the same thing. I could have been better in every conversation just running through those steps.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: How many times have we been in conversations where, when you reflect back on it, the way that you handled it, you’re like, Oh, why did I go there? Why did I say that?
JEN TOOF: Mm-hmm.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: If I had only done this, if I had only done that. Yeah.
JEN TOOF: Yeah.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: We’ve all been there. No one’s perfect. We’ve all been there.
JEN TOOF: So I hope we are helping some of our listeners today of taking the step of awareness, is the biggest key of knowing how you can be better in a conversation, and that’s what today is all about.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely.
JEN TOOF: So our next part– so this isn’t necessarily a question for you. I’m going to share some of the content that I had learned for, and share it out to our listeners. So there were some steps for every conversation. So going into every conversation, there’s perceiving the conversation. There’s how we are perceiving it. There’s also that paying attention piece that I just referenced as well. Then there’s remembering the conversation.
So in all key components of what you shared, those are the first three pathways. So there are three different pathways, but those are the first three steps in all of them that you had shared during your presentation for entering into a tough talk. But then proceeding from there, there’s three different ways that the conversation can be approached by somebody in that conversation.
So there’s repeating the message using exactly the same words used by the speaker. So that’s one approach. Then there is rendering the message using similar words and similar phrase arrangements that the speaker used. So you aren’t needing to remember word for word, but you are using similar words and similar phrases. And then there’s rendering the message using your own words and sentence structure.
So there’s three different ways to be actively engaged in this conversation, and three different pathways. So there’s not a perfect formula when you’re entering into these conversations. The important piece is that you’re remembering those first triggers for preparing. You’re remembering to pause, you’re remembering your tone, but you’re also engaged in a way that you are listening to the speaker, who’s the person that you’re engaged in.
And you don’t need to be perfect. There are definitely three different ways. I hope I captured that in a way that I hit upon that slide. But that really stuck with me where I was like, you know what, there isn’t a perfect formula. And we shouldn’t strive for perfection, we should be striving for doing the best that we can.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely, Jen. And what you just described is active listening. That’s something that we all need to strive for when we’re having any kind of conversation, active listening. How many times have you, and anyone listening out there right now, how many times have you been in a conversation with someone and then, you’ve said your piece, you’ve spoken your piece. And then they’ll say, well, this– it’s like they didn’t hear anything that you said. They’ll say something and you’re like, well, wait a second, that’s not what I said. Is that what you got out of what I said? That’s not what I said at all.
JEN TOOF: Yeah.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: So active listening is, it’s important. Because it helps you process, and it allows the other person to know that you got what they were putting down. First, it’s helpful to repeat what the other person said, if they’re– especially if there’s a question, if you’re unsure. Repeat what the other person said. Using their words establishes that you were listening, that you did hear what they said. You heard it correctly.
And paraphrasing, paraphrasing is important. Being able to paraphrase their message shows that not only you heard what they said, but you got their point. You understood where they were going with this. So it shows understanding.
And then lastly, it’s important to be able to reflect on what the person said. Reflect on it using your own words, and apply it to– from your lens. Maybe this even might– you might even be able to draw a parallel like, Oh, OK, Jen. I see what you’re saying. It’s kind of like when I do this. Or it’s kind of like this for me.
Show them that you’re relating what they said, that you’re actually trying to walk in their shoes, and that you can take that point and relate it to something maybe that you’ve experienced. And that opens the door to maybe even build a connection, or maybe find some common ground.
JEN TOOF: Yeah. And I think sometimes people try to go for the mic drop moment, which means they have completely not listened at all. It’s just, I’m going to drop the mic here. I’m going to walk away. I’m going to be loud. I’m going to use my tone. I’m going to use everything that is not conducive to a positive outcome of every– of any conversation.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Right.
JEN TOOF: And so, yeah.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: And you know what I’m– Jen, I’m all about transparency. I’m all about telling on myself. And I will tell you, I will tell you, I have been– I’ve had conversations where someone said something and there was a trigger. And what it did for me is, I was so busy thinking of my comeback or, I was thinking of what I’m going to say next that I wasn’t even paying attention to the next thing that they said. I just tuned them out because I’m busy thinking of how I’m going to– what I’m going to say next about that. So, that’s not active listening. Guilty.
JEN TOOF: That is not. And we should all strive for having some positive outcomes here.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely.
JEN TOOF: And you had some great– I don’t know if I want to call them goals to try to obtain, outcomes always feels like this way of like, there’s a finish. And I sometimes think a conversation isn’t a finish, it’s an ongoing growing opportunity, especially if it’s about difficult conversations. And that’s how we started this whole conversation on.
So what does a positive outcome look like, and how do we strive to attain something that feels positive versus negative? Now it’s still might not feel good, but the awkwardness can be different. It can make you feel better in the long run because you addressed it earlier versus later. So what do some of those positive outcomes look like?
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Sure, Jen. I would say, like you said, you want to strive for positive results. You want something– you want to always strive for something positive to come out of this communication. And going in with that mindset, going in that you want to have a positive result, it helps to set the tone. It helps to maintain the tone, when you go in with a positive mind.
You always want to go in and ask questions. Ask questions throughout the conversation for clarity. Because that shows not only that you’re invested in this conversation, it shows that you really want to have a better understanding. It shows that you respect the person enough to really want to get a good understanding of where they’re coming from.
So asking questions, that’s a positive thing. We shouldn’t look at that as negative when someone’s asking us questions. It’s not negative. It’s– we– we should think of it as this person really wants to get where I’m coming from. So I’m going to answer those questions and give them that understanding.
Also important, show kindness. So easy to do, show kindness. Don’t interrupt. Allow the person to speak without interruption. And when you model this behavior, when you show grace and kindness and allowing someone to talk, that also sets a tone. And hopefully that will be reciprocated. When you’re giving that out, you should hopefully get that back. So show some kindness and don’t interrupt.
I would say also when it comes to striving for a positive results, Jen, you never want to go into a conversation thinking that you already know what someone’s going to say. Don’t make assumptions. Avoid assumptions about the other person’s point of view. That’s prejudging, and no one wants to be prejudged.
You might go in with someone thinking in your mind that you know what they think, you know what their mindsets, what their point of view is going to be. And then you might be floored to learn something completely new about this person that you would not have even imagined. So I’m going to say the cliche, never judge a book by its cover.
Also, I would say, just– and you mentioned this earlier about paying attention. Pay attention to the points that are being made in the conversation. And something that I alluded to also, you might actually identify some common ground between your viewpoints. You and this person may not be as different as you think. Your viewpoints may not be as opposing as you went in the conversation thinking.
And so look for those opportunities to find common ground. And also this could open the door for a further dialogue. There could be an opportunity here to further engage another time and really get to know this person a little bit better. If you find– if you find a commonality, jump on that. Take that opportunity to continue the conversation. It might even help you expand your network, or your friend circle. So always look for common ground.
And then lastly, Jen, I would say, if you don’t find the common ground, it’s OK. We’re not always going to agree about everything. And it would be a fairy tale to think that everyone is going to agree about everything all the time. So I would say, that’s when you gracefully agree to disagree. We’re not on the same page here, and that’s OK. Respectfully agree to disagree.
JEN TOOF: Thanks Denita. So before we do our final thought, let’s give our contact information for anybody who wants to reach out to us, anybody who wants to do an episode with us. If anybody wants to talk about approaching a tough talk or a conversation that could be difficult to approach, we can certainly– we don’t have to feature it as an episode, but we can do consultations outside in our regular work with our unit as well through care and concern or student conduct, or equity and advocacy.
So my email address is JLT46@psu.edu. And that’s JLT46@psu.edu. And Denita, if you’d like to give your email address or how people should contact you.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Jen. thank you. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me at WCstudentconcern– that’s student, S-T-U-D-E-N-T– concern, C-O-N-C-E-R-N– @psu.edu. And like Jen said, I would love if you just want to consult. If you have a tough conversation coming up and you just need some coaching to get through it. Or maybe you already had a difficult conversation, and you just want to talk about how it went, and may be what you could have done differently. How to maybe grow from that conversation going forward and take it to another level, anything. Please feel free to reach out.
JEN TOOF: And I think anybody who wants to share what they’ve learned, or shared approaches that have worked well, anybody who wants to be a guest and record an episode here for our podcast, we can have you on. We don’t have to give out your full name. You can completely be anonymous in our conversation for respect for privacy. But we think it’s important for others to know how are everyday humans approaching these conversations.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Absolutely. And one other thing I would add, Jen, if there’s anyone out there listening who might want to participate in a tough talk with another student, we’re always looking for to bring students together who might have different points of views, different outlooks, and bring them together to facilitate a moderated tough talk, a moderated conversation, where they can get to know each other a little bit better, express their viewpoint, and learn about the other person. If that’s something that might interest you, please, please hit me up.
JEN TOOF: Thanks, Denita. And Denita, I would like to end with you for our final thought. You had shared this at the beginning of your presentation, and it was talking about bringing your authentic self. Why is this so important for any person in any conversation to be authentic, and what does being our authentic self look like? And you had a great graphic that you had located, and it said, “I am.” And I just thought it was so powerful as an opening that I would love to use it as our final thought for today.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Sure, Jen. Thank you for that. So when I say bring your authentic self to a conversation, what I mean is, we all have a skill. We all have a talent, or as I like to call it, a superpower. We all have a superpower, something that we’re– something that we are good at.
And you know what, it’s funny, because I find that it’s hard for some people to think about what they’re good at. It’s easy for people to say, Oh, well I wish I did this better, or I’m not so good at this. We can list our challenges like this, but when it comes to thinking about something that we excel at, I find that that’s a struggle for some people.
So I’m challenging everyone to think about what is your superpower that you can bring to a difficult conversation that might alleviate some of the, the tension, that might make that conversation go a little bit more smoothly. Some examples, maybe some of you have great analytical skills, where you’re able to really listen to what someone’s saying and pick out parts that you can identify with and help them expand on these thoughts. Maybe you’re really good at analyzing.
Maybe some of you are comedians. Maybe someone has a really great sense of humor, which is awesome for a tough talk because that allows you to enter some levity into the situation. Maybe you can tell a joke that breaks the ice. Maybe you can just say something witty and clever and make people laugh, and then that easily– that just immediately relieves the tension that’s in the air.
Maybe some of you have really great, really strong empathy, empathy skills. Maybe you’re very empathetic. Maybe you’re really good at putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and really imagining what that experience would have been like. And then that helps you build a connection with the person, which is always good when you’re having a difficult conversation.
So think about what makes you authentic? What is your superpower, something that you’re really good at? What skill do you possess that would make having a difficult conversation a little less difficult?
JEN TOOF: I think there’s anything more I can say or add to that. It was perfect. Thank you so much, Denita, for being on our episode today.
DENITA WRIGHT WATSON: Thank you, Jen, for having me. I enjoyed being here today, and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with whoever wants to.