Maya Angelou, featured in a recent issue of Diversity Woman, is a gifted speaker. I have had the opportunity to hear her speak and am always amazed at how her words and reflections can make people feel good about themselves, their lives, and their futures.
Words have meaning and power. Many of us realize that our ability to use words, conversations, and dialogues offers a way to educate and connect. Yet, we can be challenged by differences, our emotions, and our “lenses and legacies,” and sometimes are not as skilled in our communication as we would like to be.
In January 2011, we were shocked, disturbed, and saddened by the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. We watched the news stations and read the blogs, tweets, and articles that discussed the incident, the loss of lives, and the connected topics of hate speech, escalation of violence, and lack of civil discourse.
Many sought to place blame on a television station or a political party. People were looking for answers and to understand how and why the shooting had happened. As time progressed, we began to hear people and bipartisan leaders around the country acknowledge the need for civility. Many spoke about the hope that this would be one of the potentially “positive” outcomes of a devastating tragedy. It highlighted the importance of respectful communication and dialogue.
In college, a talented anthropology professor told us that if we are in a disagreement with someone, we have to be able to understand her position and be able to argue her position fully, before articulating and stating our own. Many years later, I thought about her words, and was reminded of the importance of listening and understanding.
In our many roles, personal and professional, we are always engaged in some level of conversation. How we use our words and how we listen for understanding, with empathy, and with the goal of making a connection, can change the nature of how we live and work. The last time I heard Dr. Maya Angelou speak, she encouraged all of us in the audience to compliment each other. She pointed out that as women, we often do not praise each other. She told us that our compliment might be the only nice thing that someone hears that day.
It’s improtant that we seek opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the words and voices of many people who historically have not been valued or allowed to sit at the table and be a part of political and societal conversations.
We are moving forward as a society, but I believe we still have work to do around how we value different voices and contributions. We are still learning how to have important conversations that build trust, create partnerships, and share power. Each day, we each have an opportunity to listen to people, to participate in conversations that have meaning, and to use words with sincerity. We have an opportunity to understand that the “conversation is the relationship.” And perhaps if we all understand this better, we will have more civility and understanding not only in our personal and workplace conversations, but also in our national debates. DW
Tanya M. Odom, EdM, is a consultant, facilitator, trainer, coach, and speaker. She is a part-time senior consultant at the Future Work Institute. You can reach her at tanya [at] diversitywoman.com.