Are You Ready for a Red Table Talk?

Do you ever have to address emotionally charged topics at work, or in your personal life?  We all do.

A quick glance of the headlines reveals, we’re not all skilled at having difficult conversations.  Whether it’s racial discrimination or sexual harassment, these aren’t easy topics to discuss, especially at work.  Many people shy away from sensitive topics because they don’t want to offend anyone, or make a fool of themselves.

I understand the impulse.  It spares you discomfort in the moment.  But in reality, avoiding these conversations only prolongs the problems.

“The only way out is through.”

I’ve been watching the Facebook show, The Red Table.  It’s a great model for handling sensitive issues.  The show, hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter Willow, and mother Adrienne, around a Red Table having candid conversations about sensitive issues.

One of the things I’ve found most valuable is the three generational perspective on women and race.  Unlike an in-person conversation, watching the show enables me to listen without worrying about saying the wrong thing.

There are two things they do extremely well, which can be a model for any challenging conversation:

1. Honor the other person’s experience
Nothing is worse than someone else telling you how you should feel about your own experiences.  One of the things I love about The Red Table is the way they allow each participant to have their own experiences.  They ask questions like, “What was that like for you?  Even though they are family members who lived and worked together for decades, they don’t attach their emotions to other’s experiences.
For example, if someone shares with me what it’s like to be a Hispanic person, or a black person, or a transgender person in my organization, I need to be quiet and listen.The truth is, I don’t know what it’s like to be them. The only way I can come close to understanding is to honor their perspective and have gratitude for the emotional labor it costs them to share with me. In that conversation, I don’t need to solve the problem, deny the problem, or explain to them that their perspective on the problem is flawed. I simply need to hear them.

2. Check your ego at the door
If you’re trying to prove yourself right, you’re not having a meaningful conversation; you’re simply waiting for your turn to talk.

At The Red Table, there is no pretense of perfection. The women openly share their struggles, their challenges, and are frank about where they need to grow. When you consider they’re all public figures, it’s pretty astounding.Add in that Jada is Willow’s mother and Adrienne is Jada’s mother, and the level of candor is even more impressive. To be clear, they’re not gossiping or spilling ugly secrets, they’re having heartfelt conversation without judgment or blame.

If they can be that vulnerable and honest with each other, on camera, certainly the rest of us can up our game.When you’re discussing a sensitive topic, don’tbe afraid to be vulnerable, and don’t assume you have to have the answers. Suspend judgment; sometimes simply having the conversation is enough.

The Red Table is a model of truth and transparency.  Pinkett Smith was inspired to launch the show after a few real and raw conversations with friends changed her own life.  She says, “Everybody’s holding information all close to the chest. We really all have information for each other.  If we would just talk to each other, we would know we’re not in this game alone.”