Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Trainer Insights

Responding to Questions about Power, Race, Gender, and More

We’ve all had this moment: A learner asks a tough question, and all eyes turn to you in expectation that you, as the expert trainer, will know the answer. Sometimes this is not too challenging—and other times it is downright terrifying.

When I facilitate, I engage the entire class in answering tough questions to get a variety of perspectives. However, last fall I had a new experience where my tried-and-true strategy yielded little more than uncomfortable silence.

During the class, a learner asked how the Crucial Conversations® for Mastering Dialogue skills work if someone is not in a position of power—or, in their words, “not white or cisgender.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

In that moment I wanted to protect the psychological safety in the room, respect the question, and offer valuable insight. However, while I did my best to validate the perspective of the learner, I wasn’t sure I had a great answer.

As I unpacked this experience after class had ended, I tapped into the collective wisdom of Crucial Learning subject matter experts whose opinions I value and discovered that this was not an uncommon question. Learners have posed questions around a variety of sensitive topics, from power differentials to gender differences and race to applying the skills in a context of neurodiversity.

So, as trainers, how do we answer those tough questions? My purpose today is not to answer such questions, but to provide some resources and ideas that will help you respond when you receive them.

The first resource I always consult is the “Trainer Resources” in the back of each Trainer Guide, which includes examples of difficult questions with thoughtful answers. Specifically, I consult the “Yeah, but” section of the trainer resources (see page 223 of the Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue Trainer Guide).

If I am not able to find the answer there, I will look at the index in the corresponding book to examine the topic in more detail from the perspective of the book authors and researchers.

Another resource I rely on is my esteemed colleagues. Likewise, you can tap into a great source of support and knowledge within the Crucial Learning Trainers groups on both Facebook and LinkedIn. In these groups, certified trainers can pose questions and get answers from fellow certified trainers, master trainers, and Crucial Learning experts.

Here’s just one insight I gained from a colleague. If we watch closely, every video in Mastering Dialogue reflects a power differential. This is no accident, for ALL Crucial Conversations bring power differentials to the surface, whether in the form of position, gender, or race, or in the form of social status, outspokenness, or ability to articulate ideas. From the first video in Get Unstuck featuring Anya and Kim to the interaction between Danor and Jeet in Explore Others’ Paths, a power differential exists. The authors of the content always say that if the skills aren’t powerful enough to hold the toughest conversations with the toughest people, then they aren’t practical for the real world.

When learners ask tough questions, we may need to focus more on helping them see the benefit of Master My Stories, inviting them to examine their beliefs that would render them powerless. Help learners challenge the stories that may impact their dialogue in situations where they feel that some dynamic exists that would render the skills useless. As we teach the Victim, Villain, Helpless stories, we teach learners to ask, “What CAN I do to move towards what I really want?” Power differentials will always exist, but that does not necessarily mean some people are powerless. We may not be able to change or influence everything in our situation, but what conversations CAN we have? What influence IS possible? Where can we start?

The feedback I received was more than valuable. It gave me not only the answer to the difficult question I had been asked, but it also gave me a new way to both hear and answer these hard questions. While Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue is not a course on diversity, equity, and inclusion, each lesson teaches us that there is a pool of shared meaning, and the aim of dialogue is to invite and allow everyone to contribute to it. In other words, everybody gets a seat at the table—regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, political viewpoint, ability, or experience. Dialogue is the goal. The skills taught in the course grant us voice. They give us power to discuss what was previously undiscussable.

For a deeper look at how Crucial Conversations skills can be leveraged as a framework to initiate and sustain conversations about race, gender, equity, and other often avoided and very necessary topics, check out our November 2023 trainer webinar, Connecting DE&I with Dialogue: Leveraging Crucial Conversations Skills for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Initiatives.

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