In her twenties, Karen Downes (pictured) built a home business in Australia into a multi-million dollar enterprise with her sister, Judith. Unfortunately in 1999 the business came to a difficult end, tearing apart their families and leaving the sisters emotionally bruised.
Karen continued with her passion to transform herself and support others. She moved to the UK and led personal development programmes for thousands of people around the world, from corporate leaders to women in the villages of India and Bangladesh. Then in 2018, Judith tragically died and Karen found that emotional scars from betrayals and childhood trauma could no longer be suppressed. She decided do the Hoffman Process.
After completing the course she found the courage to fly back to Australia to have much-needed, open-hearted conversations with her family. The resulting release of long-held shame and the restoration of loving connections meant Karen became even more passionate about the positive effects of the ‘courageous conversations’ that she’d always advocated.
Karen says, ‘Having a courageous conversation takes willingness and a commitment to creating a more compassionate and truthful world. These are times when we speak from the heart about the things we’re afraid to talk about. When we reveal to another person what lies deep within our heart, healing takes place and authenticity is restored. I find, if I look, that there is always a courageous conversation waiting to be had.
In the corporations where I consult, I observe the damage that’s done when people are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions and it can be a contributing factor to mental health issues in the workplace.
I believe it’s the conversations people don’t have, as opposed to the ones they do have, that can cause the most damage. We may be afraid of speaking out, unsure of how to deal with a difficult relationship or we may feel bullied or pressured by someone at work. If we don’t say anything, the damage to our self-worth and sense of personal dignity can be unbearable and in turn, harmful to our personal relationships.’
Six steps to a courageous conversation
These are the six steps I train people in during our workshops, for having a courageous conversation, be it with a boss, a spouse, a sibling or a friend:
1) Ask yourself, ‘Why is this important?’
My own answer to this question is: ‘I’m committed to walking the ‘right’ path and going that little bit further each and every day to be a better version of myself than the day before.’
2) Be clear about your intention
For example: to heal, to forgive, to take responsibility, to complete something unresolved, to restore harmony in the relationship, to enrol someone in something you want to make happen, to make a request.
3) Dignify yourself before speaking
Use your breath and visualisation to centre yourself. Acknowledge any fear or anxiety the conversation might produce and focus on your breathing to calm your nervous system.
4) Compassion and forgiveness
Find this for yourself first then the other. We can’t forgive others if we can’t forgive ourselves. Judgement creates separation – emotional understanding creates connection. You have no idea what’s going on inside the other person or maybe even why they do what they do.
5) Dignify the other person in your speaking
Speak in the first person – ‘I’ – taking responsibility for the path you walk and decisions you have taken or are taking. Be careful not to blame the other or justify your behaviour. Notice if you have any preconceived judgements or opinions about this person and ask yourself: is it actually true? It might feel real, but often it’s our own judgement.
6) Engaged listening
Listen to the response without attempting to defend yourself, and notice if you disassociate from your feelings. See if you can take what the other person says without having it land as something personal.
Karen Downes is the CEO of The Flourish Initiative: ‘transcending business as usual’. You can find out more at: www.theflourishinitiative.com