Stepping into Conversations

Laurence Duarte
11 min readApr 7, 2022

Dear Ones,

How do you feel today?

What an “existential” epoch we are all in. Again, we’re being pushed to the edge. Watching Instagram and TikTok, how strange and flattened the world appears, images of the mundane (food, daily activities, cute cats) interspersed with images of war and destruction. I know, there is nothing new there, it’s life, all happening simultaneously. At the same moment one person’s heart breaks, a mother holds her child for the first time.

How do we make sense of it, without degrading our empathy, succumbing to apathy, normalizing violence? How do we find ground in this massive intensity, where very little is actually within our control.

“You cannot find peace,” Virginia Woolf wrote, “by avoiding life.” But we often create chaos to avoid life as well, to avoid dealing with what needs dealing with. The opportunity here is profound, soul-level acceptance of what is. To transmute darkness into light. To cut our losses, commit to what is true, and release into the vast unknown.

The world is as precarious as it’s ever been. But life is a continuum. Always has been. How are we going to show up, right in this moment, right now? It’s all we have.

And then, when we least expect it and, as if by magic, Grace appears and we are again in awe. There is a comfort to find in the certainty of our seasons. Spring with its buoyant colors and reinvigorating energy is giving us a renewed sense of hope, and blessings. We are still here with eyes to see it. The cure is so simple, hiding in clear sight. As close as breath and air, all around us. During times of confusion, brighter sun, and blossoming trees remind us to come back free from expectation, in what really matters: this moment, right here, now.

Spring is a synonym for appetite. What are you hungry for? What do you want to do, feel, achieve, renew?

We are always a thought away from shifting, being present, serving, humbly and with grace. As leaders, partners, friends, colleagues, human beings, how do we want to show up? What do we want to express? How do we want to speak to others? Are there new promises we would like to make?

A Deeper Call to Integrity

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” — E.E. Cummings

“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” wrote the German poet Nietzsche. “The true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge,” added poet Seamus Heaney more than a century later. Behind these invitations lies the answer we are all seeking; In order to fulfill our deep, raw, vulnerable, and very real need to be seen, loved and understood by others — friends, family, managers, we need first to be fed by our own well-being.

Every human being is the sum total of his reactions to experience. In order to find purpose, inspiration, intention, let’s examine our whys.

Self-awareness is required. A deeper call to integrity. The more embodied we are, the higher/deeper our bar of integrity becomes. Observing our own mind, our emotional terrain and becoming more familiar with the patterns that impact our behavior, with the conditioning that shapes our perception. Maturity is elevated by building the type of self-awareness that helps us internalize what’s going on in our bodies, in our relationships, in our homes, in our work, in our lives, turn that into lessons and then change our actions.

It takes genuine bravery to be one’s self. But when we exercise self-awareness, we recognize our own worth. We defend our own integrity of being and of purpose, we find our own central calmness about who we are and our essential unassailability and certainty in our identity.

Avoiding Hubris and Nemesis

“The best leaders never presume they’ve reached an ultimate understanding of all the factors that brought them to success.“ — Jim Collins

“The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.” — Thomas Carlyle

Self-awareness is the most important quality needed as a leader — and as a human being. If you don’t know your internal drivers, if you don’t know what you are made from, you are at risk to be affected by the worst disease that can afflict executives: egotism.

The ancient Greeks coined the term “hubris” to describe a form of pride that loses touch with reality and leads to “nemesis,” a fatal retribution or downfall.

Scandals don’t appear by chance; they are the consequences of poor/irresponsible actions taken by people in power within a company. In his book “The Mature Mind,” psychologist Harry Allen Overstreet argued that “the most dangerous members of our society are those grownups whose powers of influence are adult but whose motives and responses are infantile.” Such individuals have stumbled into roles in which their decisions impact wide swaths of people, and yet lack the psychological resources and steady character to make those choices soundly.

A use of wounding and destructive power, a controlling, threatening and hostile behavior, a taste for grandiosity and overconfidence are the warning signs of a dangerous lack of deep cohesive structure inside people in charge.

Any executive going up the corporate ladder should have gained as well as the professional expertise, maturity and consciousness to, understand the inextricable link between privileges and responsibilities and deal with the complexity of their charge.

Striving to Be Ourselves, Generous and Unpossessive

In our leadership apprenticeship, we often focused on leaders, the most charismatic and sometimes egotic ones, searching for recipes to conform rather than ingredients to create. As much as we like structure, and following someone’s success steps, it is a trap. If it is good to have expanders and mentors, each of us comes from a personal microculture and a unique set of skills that should be assembled in service of leadership mastery. When we start focusing on the title rather than the work, we miss the purpose of leadership, which is fulfillment from serving, guiding, consolidating, creating, growing ourselves and our others.

Don’t look for a hero to mimic, look for their values. It is the leadership, or the leader energy itself, that is important. We need to keep in mind that each of us has a unique path, and that we all learn differently. By doing so, we reward and encourage creativity in ourselves and in others. Stories should not be compared but seen as interconnected and incorporated in service of the leadership purpose.

Leadership is about affirming, clearly and calmly and with authority, the human rights of all.

We are all leaders of someone, in our business, in our family, in our community. What leadership stories do you want to create?

Connection Over Competition

“Separation is violence.” — Vindana Shiva

The world is polarized at the surface. Fueled by black-and-white thinking, with social media giving a tribute to whoever wants it, we can be tempted to participate from reaction, from fear, from hatred. Even if strict dichotomies rarely reflect realities as they are lived and experienced, we like to judge, mock, criticize and separate ourselves from the “others.” Or, we withdraw from risk or uncomfortable situations. We self-justify our no-talks, our silent treatments.

But as we mature, we come to see that life is rarely linear and instead moves in zigs and zags, and that we all need help at times in our lives when we are scared, we are stuck, we don’t know. When we refuse to have a conversation or ask for help, for another’s perspective, we refuse to share any common future; moreover, we start to bully other people into our own “unbreakable” way of being in the world.

In the workplace, this shows by our use/abuse of our hierarchical rank, falling into the trap of power over others, talking more, interrupting more, and picking our comfortable topics. It is not a conversation anymore, but a battleground.

Unfortunately, when we maintain our own survival patterns at the expense of others, eventually, this results in a toxic culture and company breakdown. Everyone’s survival behavior is constantly threatened both from within and without. We evolve in a work environment that praises success based on shame/guilt/fear of inadequacy fueled by “better than“ versus “worse than.” Rather than free us, it still makes us vulnerable to someone’s criticism, to ask for being assured, and the resentments that fester. In this hostile environment, it becomes almost impossible to ask for outside help in a meaningfully vulnerable way.

We have all experienced trauma, we have all been wounded in some way, and this is often something that walls us off from each other. We hide. We hide our wounds, doubts, shame, and fears, behind our narcissistic behaviors, loud armors, and contempt masks. But it can also be the way into conversation and connection.

So, from which energy are you creating conversations? From fears or from the heartfelt home of courage and resolution?

The great poet Maya Angelou said, “Words are things.” If words are indeed things, then they are things that can be used for better or worse. Words can be used as weapons, or they can be used as balms. Words can harm and heal. It is our choice how we use them.

Let’s Start Conversations

Instead of seeing open conversations as frightening and uncomfortable, we can welcome them with curiosity and warmth. Words have the power to affirm us, to turn us toward love, compassion and creativity. Studies show that our bodies actually change chemically when we feel valued, praised, and blessed. In leadership, when we speak with purpose, we harness the power of words for growth and good in our own lives and the lives of others.

There is a call to lean into conversations. It is time to take the initiative in relationships, offer a warm, nurturing space for conversations and become a common grounder.

Let’s cultivate an attitude toward conversation by:

  • Taking the initiative in conversations

Mature leaders — and people — make the first move. We have the ability to take the initiative in our relationships with other people; we have the capacity to extend a warm, nurturing welcome to other fellow human beings.

  • Recognizing the lessons in conflicts

Conflict is an unavoidable part of our lives because our beliefs and modes of being often contrast powerfully with those of our loved ones, acquaintances and associates.

The manner in which we handle ourselves when confronted with anger or argument would demonstrate our overall level of patience and maturity. To resolve conflict, no matter how exasperating the disagreement at hand, let’s approach our adversary with an open heart laden with compassion.

The key to finding the wisdom concealed in conflict is to ask ourselves why we clash with a particular person or situation. Conflict is frequently motivated by unspoken needs that are masked by confrontational attitudes or aggressive behavior. When we come into conflict with love and acceptance in our hearts, we empower ourselves to discover a means to attaining collective resolution.

  • Being fully present in the conversation

Finding common ground requires listening: You need to be fully present in the moment. Setting boundaries that allow us to be wholeheartedly engaged in the conversation, not distracted by our phone or another challenge we’re thinking about in our head, changes the nature of how we listen.

  • Realizing and vocalizing the things on which we agree

It is often difficult to find common ground when we focus on the things about which we disagree. But if we take a step back, we realize that, despite our differences, we actually agree about more things than is apparent.

  • Seeking understanding more than being right

Creating the environment for a common-ground conversation requires laying down our need to be right. If we both are more concerned about being right than we are understanding one another, no one wins. However, when we approach the conversation in a posture of trying to truly understand the other person, we create a path toward finding a solution.

  • Honoring the other person

Honor isn’t really a concept we use when talking about relationships anymore. And yet, we all long to feel important and valued. We must remember that conversation is about more than the topic that is discussed. When we seek to honor the other person, despite their brokenness, their young and undeveloped parts — and we all have these –, we not only create a more pleasant conversation but add value to their lives — and ours.

  • Committing to communicating with kindness

Kindness is more than being nice or defaulting to the other person’s point of view. It’s about bringing goodness into the conversation. Even if it’s a difficult conversation with differing points of view, there is a way to be kindhearted in the way we say things or how we respond. As our part in disagreements gradually becomes more clear, each new conflict becomes another chance to further hone your empathy, compassion and tolerance.

  • Focusing on growth

In conversation, we build bridges that lead to growth and help us develop even better relationships-making skills. Remember that failure and mistakes are necessary for growth. When we make a commitment to learn from whatever consequences result from our conversations, we embrace a positive mindset to overcome uncomfortable moments and build resilience rather than feed fear.

What if this Mess Can Turn Good.

“Our first need is to realize that every situation in life offers its opportunity for mature or immature responses. We do not have to wait for special occasions.” — H. A. Overstreet

As we are living in a challenging time, our fears are numerous and varied and can lead to fear-based decision-making. Fear is so pandemic in our society that it constitutes the predominant ruling emotion of our world, as we know it. The many faces of fear are familiar to us all. We have felt free-floating anxiety and panic. We have been paralyzed and frozen by fear, with its accompanying palpitations and apprehension.

But should we have to stay in the cheapest room in the house as the Sufi poet Hafiz defined fear in the 14th century? Or do we find the courage to move forward? What if we give ourselves permission to go on from where we are, go further into the experience than we have ever yet gone, to go beyond the known into the not yet known, beyond the tried into the not yet tried?

This period has thrown far beyond our boundaries at the individual and collective levels. There is initiation here to usher us into a new reality. It requires us to leave behind the “me” that we thought was so well-formed. A new frontier calls. This is not easy work. It means a part of us will be lost in order to make space for what is next. It means to let go of the familiar and the secure. To let go of our desire to possess absolute knowledge before committing to an idea or path. Things are hidden from us, including all understanding of ourselves until they appear in their own time. I mean, we are not meant to know what is going on 50% of the time. It’s time to gain a higher tolerance for mystery and uncertainty.

This is a liminal realm. One step — we just have to take one necessary step toward the future that calls us.

We are flexible. We can see opportunities in the new path set by the curveball. We can reframe any situation into something more positive. Yes, we can be surprised in a good way, if we want to. It is not about deceiving ourselves by wearing pink lenses, it is about balancing our darkness with our creativity and faith to make the most of whatever life throws at us.

Yes, we can step into our courage every day, in the little hour-to-hour decisions that place the bricks in the structure of our building of ourselves into a person who acts with freedom and responsibility.

We are enough. We are whole. We can do hard things. It is time to release ourselves to life.

The present is both interesting and manageable, and we can feel the oncoming future as abundant but not overwhelming. If we decide to.

To build this post-pandemic and post-war world, Let’s be Brave. Together.

I thank you for taking the time to do this reading with me. I am so grateful to journey alongside you.

Be safe and be watched over until we meet again in May.


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Laurence Duarte

Head of Strategy with innovation on the brain and a focus on creating safe and thriving business environments.