How to Have Difficult Conversations About Race

Conversations about race are a high priority for most organizations these days. Outside of companies, they are a top priority for many individuals too. However, they can be some of the most challenging conversations. That’s because race relations are a sensitive topic as there’s always an element of fear, the fear of saying the wrong thing.

When it comes to understanding race, I’ve read White Fragility, How to be An Anti-Racist, and Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. Recently I came across the best resource I’ve found on this important topic. How To Have Difficult Conversations About Race is a new book from my good friend Kwame Christian, Founder and CEO of the American Negotiation Institute

Kwame is an attorney who specializes in negotiations. In fact, his podcast, Negotiate Anything, is the #1 negotiations podcast in the world right now. In addition to that, Kwame is a Forbes contributor, LinkedIn Learning instructor, Professor of Negotiation and Mediation Advocacy at The Ohio State University, and a Ted Talk presenter. Wow!

When Kwame hosted a Zoom event around race conversations just over a year ago, he thought he might have 100 or so people join him. Instead, he had a thousand participants! After his short presentation he stayed online for more than three hours answering questions.

As a teacher of influence, something I appreciate about Kwame’s book is that underlying any advice he shares is a wealth of research from the social sciences. He shows how biases affect all of us then gives practical tips on ways to reduce those biases so you can have productive conversations.

Because I know Kwame well, I can tell you that as I read the book I could hear him speaking. His authentic voice comes through in a friendly, non-threatening way.

Beyond race, the book gives a great framework for any difficult conversations you may encounter. 

Below is a sampling of what you can expect to learn when you read Kwame’s book. I’ve also included a few quotes that stood out to me.

The Problem

  • Why It’s Important to Talk About Race
    “We like to believe that things are either fair or unfair and that we can come to that conclusion objectively. However, whether we perceive something as fair is based on our unique perspective.”
  • Creating a Winning Mindset
    “I like to open with a question. For example, ‘We come from different backgrounds. What impact could that have on how we are seeing the situation?'”
  • Common Psychological Barriers
    “Implicit biases are preferences or prejudices that result from unconscious associations and feelings.”

The Solution

  • The Art of Strategy
    “I’m winning if I’m moving toward my ultimate goal and if we’re able to deepen our mutual understanding—if the conversation ends with me and my conversation partner knowing more than when we began.”
  • Mobilizing Compassionate Curiosity
    “The steps of the Compassionate Curiosity framework are simple: 1.​Acknowledge and validate emotions. 2.​Get curious with compassion. 3.​Use joint problem solving.”
  • Avoid Common Mistakes
    “Embrace that feeling of discomfort and wear it as a badge of honor; it is a signal that you are on the right track. Discomfort means you are growing, learning something new, and expanding your comfort zone.”

Taking Action

  • How to be an Advocate for Positive Change
    “To ally yourself with someone or something is to associate, join, or unite; to advocate is to speak or write in favor of, to support by argument, or to recommend publicly.”1 The term advocate is more appropriate for the purposes of this book because it focuses on taking action using persuasion and influence regardless of your racial identity.”
  • The Role of Difficult Conversations in Equity
    “People often struggle to see a problem if it’s not a problem for them. But the “irritant” of advocacy is the medication necessary to cure the greater ill of racism.”

If you believe as I do, that race is an important topic and you want to be part of the conversation, pick up a copy of How To Have Difficult Conversations About Race for yourself and/or your organization.

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.

As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers (CMCT) in the world, Brian was personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to apply influence concepts at home and the office.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!

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