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Are You Supporting, Shifting or Stealing the Conversation?

The premise of a Courageous Culture is where people feel safe, belonging, valued and heard. It is not a set of value posters created at a workshop and never adhered to again. The posters are there to remind us that this is what we are striving for and if you follow them, then we will indeed feel safe, belonging, valued and heard. Being curious will help every time.

An article by Celeste Headlee author of “We need to talk: How to have conversations that matter” caught my eye as to her experience with a grieving friend. She describes her attempt at supporting her friend’s grieving after the loss of her father, as a total disaster. Celeste thought by relating her own experience of loss she would help comfort and support her friend by showing she could understand what they were going through.

Celeste’s story just made the friend more upset. She did not see it as support. She saw for what it was, a personal unrelated story with no understanding of her friend’s context.

Celeste shifted the unknown context from her friend to herself so she could feel comfortable filling the silent space.

In a school scenario, I can see how people feel they are supporting, but really, they are shifting.

Someone (speaker) has a situation that requires support (feeling heard) and the listener shifts the situation to themselves.


Speaker: “The lesson I just finished did not go down well.”

Listener: “I know what it is like, yesterday my class didn’t respond to my teaching either”


Speaker: “The lesson I just finished did not go down well.”

Listener: “That’s no good. Do you know what the problem was?”

Supporting is not the listener offering a solution or trying to put a positive spin on the event, it is allowing the speaker to feel heard. The best way to do this is to be curious so you may understand the speaker’s situation.

Then there is another level of ‘nonsupport’ – stealing.

This is where the listener steals the conversation by adding deeper narrative to the shift in a naïve effort that they are supporting the speaker. In actual fact a shifter or stealer is making the speaker feel unheard and unsafe. The very enemies of a Courageous Culture.


Speaker: “I am so happy because my class has responded so well to the numeracy strategies.”

Listener: “Today my class finished their assessments and the top 5 students have exceeded my expectation. I found the warm sessions …..”

Don’t forget supporting is also celebrating the wins.


Speaker: “I am so happy because my class has responded so well to the numeracy strategies.”

Listener: “That is terrific news. I know you have been doing a lot of work in your numeracy strategies.”

Next time your colleague shares a personal challenge or celebration, are you going to Support, Shift or Steal the space?

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