Ever taught your kid a lesson only to have it come back to bite you?
You teach them about using appropriate language and then you say a 4-letter word in front of them.
You teach them to tell the truth and they catch you in a white lie.
If we’re honest, we teach our kids the skills we wish we had and the behaviours we hope to live out. And when they call our hand on breaking our own rules, we’re better for it.
For me, one of the essential skills I wanted to pass down to my daughter is the ability to have tough conversations. See, I pride myself on my crucial conversation skills. I know I have what it takes to talk when the stakes are high.
When we teach our children crucial conversations skills, we not only make them more capable adults — we equip them to better their world. And I’ve done my best to teach these skills to my daughter, Casey.
Little did I know how much I had to learn.
After Casey graduated from grad school, she went through a period of indecision about her career. So, I asked her, “Why don’t you come along with me for an internship?”
Now, let’s be clear on what I thought this would be like.
Yes, I imagined we’d have something of a Yoda-Luke Skywalker relationship. I thought I’d an amazing mentor passing along wisdom to my young protégé.
On her first day, she joined me for a day of trainings. I taught all day while she observed. Driving home, I asked, “How do you think that went?”
As I waited for praise, I heard, “Mom, that story you told at the end was a little dated. It needs some editing and refreshing.”
Wait, this was not how this was supposed to go!
She was right.
At the end of the next day, she asked me, “Mom, can we talk about the way you scrunch your eyebrows when you’re listening to someone. It looks like you’re being critical when you’re trying to be a great listener.”
The next day, “Mom, can we talk about your wardrobe…”
I couldn’t catch a break! Casey found endless ways I could improve.
But our time together opened the door for deeper conversations too.
The Conversations That Shape Us
One day Casey asked, “Can we talk about something that’s really important for both of us? My counsellor said it’s time for me to talk with you about the role you played in my eating disorder.”
My heart sank. I knew she was dealing with this issue, but I had no idea of my role in it.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She started telling me some things I’d said to her that caused her to feel less about herself. I was heartbroken to hear about the unintended consequences of my words.
We started exploring, “Where did body image come from? How did we learn to feel this way about ourselves?”
She asked, “Where did your messages come from?”
And I remembered one of my relatives used to tell me, “You’re the fat one in the family.”
We soon realised that we needed to change the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies. We need to be aware of the effects of the comments we say to one another. Right then, we made a commitment to try to lift up everyone with whom we came in contact and not allow this terrible cycle to continue.
We reflected back on a time she’d had a bad rumour spread about her when she began college. I asked, “How do you feel about the girl who started that rumour?”
“She’s damaged. Her family is damaged. And damaged people sometimes damage other people. I’ve forgiven her. She used to have a bad pattern of doing that… until she came in contact with me.”
See, Casey calls herself “The Joy Maker” … and she lives up to the title. By teaching her the skills she needs to have tough conversations early on, she’s not only made her own life better, she’s improved the lives of the people around her — including mine.
Crucial Conversations At The Happiest Place On Earth
Where is Casey now? She worked her way through college at Disney. After our internship, they called her and asked her to work as a seasonal employee. She went, intending it to be a short-term job. But once she was there, she called and said, “Mom, this is where I’m supposed to be.” I told her, “Great! Stay down there.”
A few weeks later she called, “Mom, they’ve asked me to apply for a leadership position inside the organisation.” There were 600 applicants. Casey was one of 27 people chosen for the position.
Recently, she’s been selected for a new assignment. Why? They told her three specific reasons:
- She can have tough conversations and she’s skilled at it.
- She holds people accountable in a way that’s respectful like they’ve never seen before.
- She’s an influencer.
Now, I get these kinds of phone calls.
“Mom, you are not going to believe this! I had a cast member who was failing. He was living out of his car. He couldn’t get his medicine for schizophrenia. He was getting a divorce and going bankrupt. I sat down with him and asked him to tell me what was going on?
“He asked, ‘Are you going to fire me?’
“‘How is that going to help you? We need to set you up for success!’
“I ran into him yesterday. He’s going to school now. He and his wife got back together. He’s on his meds. He’s so much better. He told me that our conversation made all the difference to him.”
There was another woman who was being bullied by other cast members. Casey sat down and gave her a crash course in how to have a crucial conversation. She recently saw her and the women told her everything has been straightened out and she’s doing better than ever before.
Casey is making the world a better place because of her ability to have a tough conversation. In fact, she’s spreading joy.
No, these conversations aren’t easy. Yes, the stakes are high. But when you teach your children well, they will teach you and the rest of the world in return.