In the Fraternity and in life, the ability to have difficult conversations is crucial to success. Whether you need to intervene in a brother’s life or approach a contentious supervisor, understanding how to handle tough situations is an important skill that is too often lacking.
At the 55th Grand Chapter Conclave in Orlando, Jason St. John, Maryland-College Park ’94, led a seminar on this topic. While difficult conversations are often necessary and important, many people avoid them because they don’t enjoy confrontation. However, the opposite can be a downfall as well. If someone is looking for confrontation instead of conversation, the problem will usually be exacerbated.
Tough conversations come when there is a problem between two or more parties that needs a peaceful resolution. St. John encouraged attendees at the session to “Start with heart.” This is a method in which you look to draw connections with the other person, empathize with them and ease into the conversation. It also emphasizes focusing on what you can control — yourself. This helps you solve the problem, rather than becoming antagonistic or avoiding confrontation.
What Brother St. John taught, more than problem-solving, was brotherhood. To act with virtue is to act in the best interest of everyone’s goal: a peaceful resolution. To act diligently is to not accept failure from ourselves and our brothers. And to act with brotherly love is to expand your care, courage and love to those around you. All of these are critical when having crucial conversations with others, and more importantly, helping our brothers and friends in the face of confrontation.
The ability to have productive conversations about difficult issues is essential in chapter operations as well as in life. Compassionately challenging a brother to perform better or improve his life, or even asking a struggling brother to step down from an officer position, is often a necessary step for the good of a chapter. Difficult conversations can either alienate people or bring them together — that’s why brotherly love is so important.