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Kern Beare: The Art of Difficult Conversations: An Overview and Workshop
Video Recording (Oct 14, 2020)
Nuggets From Kern Beare's Call
Last Wednesday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Kern Beare.
Kern Beare, founder of the Difficult Conversations Project, offered this call as a special introduction on how to hold difficult conversations -- to be followed by a gifted four-hour workshop. Focusing on the question, “Who do we need to be to have the conversations we need to have?”, Kern’s workshop explores a powerful set of principles: (1) Prioritize the relationship over being right; (2) See beyond your story; and (3) Transform resistance into response. Taken together, these principles allow us to have constructive and creative conversations with anyone. Kern's initiative was born in the wake of the 2016 presidential election to help heal our national divide. Following a one-month, cross-country “conversation road trip” he took with his son to better understand the state of our national psyche, Kern created this free workshop.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
- Election night 2016, I was in shock. Reality was not what I thought it was. The ground under me tilted. It was less about who got elected, than about how I hadn't understood what was going on.
- Eventually I moved from shock and resistance, to acceptance of the outcome. It became an opportunity to practice the power of surrender and acceptance.
- Responding from a different place, responding from acceptance — that’s what the workshop is about.
- Right after the election, I felt I needed to get outside of my bubble. Pop the bubble. I didn't know what to do, I just knew I needed to talk to people.
- As Charles Eisenstein said:" If the rational is not working, sometimes we need to go with the irrational."
- Our fundamental problem is broken relationships.
- I realized I had to ask our liberal/progressive friends: how did you contribute to this outcome?
- If you're on the conservative side, you're afraid you'll be mocked and vilified. And if you're liberal, you're afraid you'll lose your equanimity.
- It's important to recognize that we as individuals have tremendous influence in the outcome of a conversation, regardless of the conversation.
- The heart of the experience is one of acceptance.
- We can see the value of giving the other person the experience of acceptance and love. A radically different goal from typical difficult conversations.
- Difficult conversations tend to activate our survival drive: flight, flee, or freeze.
- When we get into flight, flee, or freeze mode, there is a disconnect in the prefrontal cortex. Then we lose our capacity to be present, compassionate and creative in that moment.
- Threats to ideas and beliefs look to our brain look like threats to our physical survival.
- Flight, flee, or freeze are great strategies for not getting eaten! But in today's world where the threats are complex and long term, we need a different set of strategies.
- The conditions today that will insure our survival have changed. With the threats today, there are no ways that individuals, tribes, or nations can solve them.
- So what are the strategies we need today to survive in this environment? Building relationships with others is the starting point for building the world we want. Moving from hate to love; from alienation to connection; from ill will to good will.
- There’s a saying: ”If you really know yourself, you know everybody.”
- Fear is what keeps us out of difficult conversations. So what am I afraid of? We’re afraid that we might have to take in new information about ourselves. We might discover we're not who we thought we are.
- But if I can really know myself, then I can know that we all have the capacity to be present, to be loving, to be wise. But it does really require a radical shift in understanding who we are as human beings. It requires strengthening the ground we stand on.
Nuggets from the Transcript
We need to have faith in ourselves, that as human beings we are capable of taking in the full reality of the situation, even if it's a painful situation.
That trip [across the US] has really convinced me that our fundamental problem is broken relationships. We have fallen out of relationship with each other.
I wanted to create a workshop initially that would help liberals maintain their center, maintain their presence, so they could be creative in the conversation. And then as I began doing the workshop, I realized that people across the board were responding to it. It didn't matter whether you were liberal or conservative.
A while ago I read about Martin Luther King and his three Cs--creativity, compassion, and courage--and when we are present, we have those three things working for us.
I think one of the things that we need to do is give people a different kind of experience, and the heart of the experience is acceptance.
Difficult conversations tend to activate our survival drive: we fight, flee, or freeze. Fighting is usually manifested as we argue over facts and opinions, figures, etc. We flee by just saying “I want to avoid the conversation altogether.” Or we freeze, where someone says something that is outrageous and we aren't able to manifest any kind of response at all.
When you're triggered, you've lost all the capacities you need in order to be able to be present and creative and compassionate in that moment. So that is not where we want to be.
One thing that we know is that threats to our ideas and beliefs, as far as our brain is concerned, look like threats to our physical well-being--that we have actually conflated our ideas, the survival of our psychological self, with the survival of our physical self.
In the deep past, fight, flee, and freeze were the key. Today they are not the key; the conditions that will ensure our survival have changed.
At the individual level, the shift is from hate to love, from rejection to acceptance, from alienation to connection. That is the shift that has to happen. It has to happen, and it only happens individual by individual by individual.
We try to have difficult conversations with people we don't know very well, and that's a recipe for failure right there. The relationship needs the resiliency in order to handle the difficult conversation. So we have to start with relationship. You have to build the relationship to have the conversation.
Building connections with people is the starting point for, I think, building the world that we really want to build.
Learning to really know ourselves and … to know that we all have the capacity to be present, to be responsible, to be loving, to be creative, to be wise--I think that is our birthright, those things, as human beings.
Fear is what keeps us out of difficult conversations. What are we really afraid of? … We might find out that we are not who we thought we were. And we might have to take in some new information about ourselves. How do we learn to embrace that situation rather than walk away from it?
In a way, the people who we disagree with, who we feel are the most polar opposite of us, have the most to teach us about who we really are. Because those probably are aspects of ourselves that we simply haven't wanted to look at, haven't wanted to accept.
When you disrupt a pattern, you create a new opportunity for creative engagement.
Why would I listen to you if I don't think you have my interests at heart? Why would I listen to you if I don't think you respect me? Why would I listen to you if you just think I'm an idiot?
Relationship building takes time. …. So if you care about the person, take the time to build the kind of relationship where you build trust. It's a paradox. I mean, ultimately, you have to not care if they change or not, and you have to not make the relationship contingent upon them changing.
It's so important to be centered and present and not bring all your stuff into the situation, because then you actually activate your intuition. You get a better sense of the energy in the room. You operate from a different place.
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