By Amanda Ninneman
This is the third and final installment in a three-part series looking at our community, how we interact with each other, and best practices for having difficult conversations in a respectful way.
We began by hearing from our local leaders of faith, who offered insight into how our faiths teach us to interact in our community, and who helped underline the fact that, deep down, despite our differences, we are a community that cares for each other.
Next we heard from our local schools, who shared their best practices that teach our children how to respect and care for each other, and teach conflict resolution. For this final part, I wanted to get some direct answers on how to manage difficult conversations themselves when they come up in our daily lives.
Difficult conversations are exactly that, by nature: difficult. There is nothing about them that is easy, nothing that makes them something to look forward to. But, at some point(s) in our lives, they are necessary. If we never have difficult conversations, it likely means one of two things: 1) Everyone agrees on everything, or 2) There are a lot of assumptions and misunderstandings festering beneath the surface.
In the first instance… how boring of a life would that be? And if the second instance were true, it could lead to unhealthy (or worse) actions and reactions. No, we don’t want to go out of our way to have difficult conversations every day; that would be an unhealthy, stressful mess in itself. But when they do become necessary, how do we do it in a way that doesn’t create unnecessary division, and keeps the outcome productive?
For answers to these questions, I reached out to our local Caledonia resources, including Families First Counseling, Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, and the counselors at the Caledonia Area Public Schools. These folks are trained in guiding people through difficult conversations; conversations often inherently linked with emotional and high-stress life situations. Who better to give advice on keeping difficult conversations productive, and offer insight into the value of these conversations, than the professionals?
The format of this portion is a little different than the previous two, largely because of the number of questions. The author of each answer below is indicated by their initials: Caledonia Area Public Schools (CPS), which was answered collaboratively by counselors Brent Schroeder and Susan Howe as well as administrators Craig Ihrke, Nathan Boler, and Susan Link; Carrie Swenson (CS) and Ted Barthel (TB), who are substance abuse counselors with Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center; and psychologist Julie O’Mara Meyer (JOM) of Families First Counseling. Huge thanks to all of those individuals for their time and expertise. Thanks also to Erik Sievers, who coordinated Hiawatha Valley’s response.