Every day our world is becoming more aware of social injustices that people face on a daily basis. Consequently, open conversations about discrimination are becoming more common place. At some point in your life, a coworker, friend or family member will approach you about a personal struggle. Maybe your spouse will want to talk about covert ageism they’ve experienced at work. Or your friend will want to discuss their recent run-in with ableism, sizeism, or religious discrimination. In those moments, you will have to decide whether you respond from the vantage point of an antagonist, a neutral party, or an ally. In such situations, most people prefer to be the latter. But how should you approach the conversation when you want to convey unwavering support? Here are three conversation tips to help you be an ally for others.
- Listen To Learn, Then Speak
The first and most important step of being an ally is to listen before (and more than) you speak. We all enter conversations with preconceived notions that shape our viewpoints. But if you’re aiming to be supportive, you must first be willing to see things from a different perspective. To practice allyship, be intentional about listening without judgement. Similarly, be open to the idea of unlearning popular misconceptions and relinquishing any internal biases you may have. Curiosity is a good thing, so feel free to politely ask clarifying questions about foreign topics and points of confusion. Lastly, when you do speak, do so with compassion and empathy and make sure to offer plenty of support.
- Avoid Toxic Positivity
While the term “toxic positivity” may sound like an oxymoron, it’s a valid issue that plagues countless conversations. Toxic positivity refers to the act of suppressing negative emotions in exchange for the expression of exclusively happy sentiments. Positivity only becomes toxic when it’s used to push a person’s complex (or negative) emotions aside in a dismissive or invalidating way. In certain scenarios, even innocent phrases said with the purest of intentions can be perceived as insensitive. Here are a few examples:
- “Look on the bright side…”
- “Things could be so much worse, be grateful!”
- “Positive vibes only!”
- “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
On their own, none of these phrases sound hurtful. But when paired with a lack of acceptance and acknowledgement of opposing feelings, such sentiments become limiting.
- Accept Their Experience As Truth
Playing devil’s advocate is appropriate behavior when participating in a debate. However, if your goal is unity, it’s best to accept others’ experiences and perspectives as truth. Questioning their honesty, scrutinizing their recollection of events and raising points in support of the other side, only serves to make people defensive and guarded. True allyship starts with acceptance and validation. If a friend shares their story, believe them and trust that their experience was recounted credibly.
Being an ally requires a selfless attitude and a humble heart. Knowing the appropriate words to say can give you the confidence to offer the right kind of support. Use these three conversation tips to strengthen your allyship and show that you care.