Tags: 2020 Elections | Coronavirus | George Floyd Protests | conversations | masks

What Leaders Lose When They Avoid Engaging in Difficult Conversations

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By Thursday, 30 July 2020 12:51 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Within the current climate, we are surrounded by many taboo topics that are nearly unavoidable. Yet, somehow, many of us manage to avoid them all.

Most of us have chosen our own approaches to navigate the pandemic, the aftermath of George Floyd, and topics leading up to the 2020 presidential election. With all the many politically-driven issues that consume our nation, few see eye to eye on every item making headlines. From police reform, to whether wearing a mask is a matter of personal freedom, or endless conspiracy theories, there seem to be more issues impacting us than our nation has experienced in some time.

Rather than discuss mask-wearing or protests with friends, co-workers, family, or strangers, we choose not to talk about it. But are we doing anyone any good by just dodging these issues altogether? What if we discovered that regular civic debate could help us grow?

Yet so many of us are afraid to share our views or beliefs in public. Why? Maybe it is because we seek to prioritize peace, or we have already made up our minds that anyone with an opposing view will be able to engage in a conversation. A study by Pew Research Center in 2016 revealed that opposing parties are afraid of each other. In general, we aren't only avoiding discussion, but we're avoiding people simply because of a difference of opinion and a fear of disagreeing.

Avoiding controversial discussions greatly hinders us as leaders in several ways. It keeps us from becoming problem-solvers, leading well, from growing in our relationships and maturing as individuals. Within the realm of leadership, engaging in controversial conversations is critical. Without this ability, any leader will greatly struggle. We need to be able to participate in civil debates, not only to be a part of the discussion but to know how to deal with different personalities and understand how to handle stress. Beyond the role of leadership, civic engagement in controversial issues is beneficial for essential human development.

Also, by withdrawing from controversial conversations with those in our lives, whether spouses or co-workers, there comes a cost. "Information is power," said Susan Heitler in an interview with CNBC. A Denver-based clinical psychologist and author of "The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage," Heitler says that when we forfeit these conversations and information, we sacrifice our relationships. When we know less about those around us, how can we learn, grow or better understand each other?

When we raise a generation that avoids conflict and uncomfortable conversations, we encourage a culture that will lack the ability to collaborate and problem-solve. We need to begin to take a closer look at what avoiding these discussions is costing us and our culture at large.

By remaining reluctant to engage in challenging debates, we ultimately remain trapped within them. "The Seven Deadly Sins of CEOs," written by Lucy Kellaway for BBC, says the main reason most people avoid conflict, is because they are afraid they will be unable to bring it to a peaceful resolution. Avoiding stressful situations and awkward conversations is ultimately us preventing growth as leaders and as individuals. If we desire to contribute to the advance of our nation, our relationships, and our personal development, we must begin to engage in conversations that may at first be slightly uncomfortable.

Perfecting the art of navigating civic and peaceful conversations might not happen overnight. But just remember, practice makes perfect.

Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of "Framework Leadership." A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern's president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Read Kent Ingle's Reports — More Here.

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