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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

How to Deal With Conflict/Polarizing Conversations




Polarizing conversations are unavoidable.


Back in the day, certain topics were too “taboo” to be discussed in the workplace. Conversations about race, religion, pay, and gender were too divisive and controversial for the office.


Today, they’re discussed freely throughout most organizations.


Since the Black Lives Matter movement and the social justice protests of 2020, not only are these topics more frequently discussed, but they have since taken on an entirely new cadence and frequency.


These conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable. It's important to understand that It’s not gonna change, and we can’t control when or where they occur. But we can control how we handle these conversations as women and people of color.


As someone with PLENTY of experience handling difficult/polarizing conversations in professional settings, here are my tips on how to keep cool - and possibly even use them to your advantage.

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Use them as a chance to educate and create allyship.


I welcome polarizing conversations because I often find them an opportunity to educate.


Harness the opportunity to assess the situation. Ask yourself, “If I take this opportunity to educate, could I be creating new allies?” If yes, engage. Share your perspective. Make sure that as the person driving the conversation, you’re also using active listening in your responses. That’s a great way to create true allyship - through engaging.


However, remember that it’s not just about what you say but how you say it. People won’t listen if you’re yelling and full of emotion. To drive true allyship, do so through personal experiences, stories, and facts.



Use them to secure your brand.


As challenging as they may be, polarizing conversations can be a great way to establish your personal brand. People will understand who you are, what you stand for, your virtues and beliefs, and what you will/will not tolerate - it's extremely important.


I'm very intentional with my personal brand, and people around me know my boundaries. They know what I'm willing to tolerate and which lines shouldn't be crossed - and I make it clear when the opportunity presents itself. My brand sets the stage for people to decide whether they want to ask a question or make a comment when I'm in the room, and whether or not to seek my insight, involvement, engagement, or thoughts.



Pick your battles.


You may sometimes find yourself surrounded by people who are not ready or willing to elevate the conversation, shift their perspective, hear your opinion, or grow in any way.


If I’m in a toxic environment and know that no matter what, the opportunity to educate isn’t possible, I will not engage. If that’s the environment in which these polarizing conversations are taking place, it’s not worth it.


Truthfully speaking, some people are just bad apples. When dealing with such individuals, my advice is to DISENGAGE. When people show me who they truly are, I make a note of it. I don’t allow them to be a roadblock or get in my way because I avoid having conflicts or polarizing conversations with them. That’s key. Just as you pick your battles in your personal life, do the same in your professional life.


Remember - You’re in charge.


The foundation of all of this is psychological safety. Regardless of whether or not you decide to engage, ensure it’s done in a psychologically safe manner for YOU - because you have to show up the next day and onwards.


At the end of the day, remember that you’re in control of your career; you want to ensure that every aspect of these conversations results in growth going forward. Upward mobility. Exposure. All the positive aspects related to reaching your career desires and goals.


Having these challenging conversations requires a good amount of confidence, a high EQ, and of course, executive presence - all topics I regularly discuss on Being Brown At Work Live every Tuesday at 6:30 PM ET. For more actionable tips and advice, join me weekly on LinkedIn, Facebook, or YouTube.

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