Courageous Conversations
Courageous Conversations: Breaking The Ice and Building Bridges

At the July Dinner Meeting of the Orange County Chapter of the Project Management Institute, we witnessed an engaging and thought-provoking presentation by Belinda Aleman. Titled “Courageous Conversations: Stop Avoiding and Start Engaging,” the talk aimed to inspire us to embrace difficult conversations and create psychologically safe spaces within their workplaces. Aleman encouraged everyone to step out of their comfort zones and speak up through courageous conversations, especially in challenging circumstances.

Belinda Aleman, a seasoned professional in the field, started off her presentation by introducing herself and immediately grabbed everyone’s attention with a relatable workplace anecdote. She vividly recalled a time when her organization was going through layoffs. With a sprinkle of humor and a touch of vulnerability, she highlighted the importance of creating psychologically safe spaces in such challenging times. Right from the get-go, she made it clear that this talk was about stepping out of our comfort zones and embracing difficult discussions.

The goal of the presentation was simple yet profound: to empower everyone in the room to feel more comfortable with having those tough conversations and speaking up, even when it feels like the hardest thing to do. Aleman recognized the immense value of courage and honesty in driving meaningful change within teams and organizations.

Photo Contributed by Sam Lee volunteer of PMI-OC.

In the first major part of her presentation, Aleman meticulously defined what courageous conversations truly entail. These conversations are the ones we usually avoid; the “undiscussable” issues we’d much rather sweep under the rug. Doing this in the workplace raises complex and sensitive subjects, which can bring out strong emotions and should be handled with careful and mindful discussions, but by shining a spotlight on these issues, we can address the root causes and work towards resolution and growth.

In the second part, Aleman delved into the significance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). She stressed that self-awareness and empathy form the bedrock of successful courageous conversations. Understanding our own character, feelings, motives, and desires enables us to be empathetic and navigate difficult conversations by taking other’s perspectives in a non-judgemental way. By being understanding to the perspectives and feelings of others, we can create an environment that fosters openness and understanding.

Finally, Aleman presented a five-step model to tackle those tough conversations. Step 1 is to ask yourself three key questions: what happened, what am I feeling/thinking, and how does this impact the way I see myself? This self-reflection is crucial to gain clarity and understand the underlying dynamics at play.

Step 2 is to check yourself and determine if action is needed. You need to reflect on what you hope to accomplish with the conversation. You must shift your stance to support learning, sharing, and problem-solving. You also need to ask yourself if it’s possible to let go of the issue. After asking yourself all that, you can make an informed decision about whether to raise the issue or not. 

Step 3 is to approach from a neutral perspective. Approaching the conversation with an open mind and including multiple viewpoints is essential. By staying objective, you let others know that you are legitimately looking to solve a problem collaboratively. 

Step 4 is to explore both their story and yours. It’s an opportunity to share perspectives and narratives while fostering empathy and understanding. This step allows you to acknowledge your feelings and possibly unravel how you got there in the first place. 

Lastly, Step 5 is to problem-solve in order to move forward. Here, you invent options that meet each other’s top concerns and interests. It is in this step that you discuss how to keep open communication moving forward to avoid potential conflict in the future.

As the presentation drew to a close, Aleman left the audience with a powerful message: courageous conversations serve as a bridge between our inner thoughts, emotions, and values, and our external actions, behaviors, and shared purpose. By embracing these conversations, not only do we unlock personal growth and development, but our teams and project outcomes also reap the benefits.

Belinda Aleman’s presentation at the July Dinner Meeting was nothing short of inspiring. Her ability to create a safe and engaging space allowed us to walk away with a renewed sense of confidence and a toolkit for tackling difficult conversations head-on. I felt inspired to gather my courage, step out of my comfort zone, and finally tackle the conversations I’ve been avoiding. I know my workplace will benefit from it, but more importantly, I’ll be a better person for it.

Content Contributor
Roderick Conwi PMP
Freezepoints eMagazine Publications Team PMI Orange County
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