Here we are, in the middle of a global pandemic, and at the very beginning of an undoubtedly, justified, powerful racial movement. These times are flooded with varying controversial and uncontroversial emotions by impassioned citizens who some have kept quiet and some have shared.
One of the main conversations of today is deciphering the means in which people are responding to the social reforms happening around them. For some, they feel that people should use their social platforms to speak out, others it’s donating to charities or relief funds in direct response to the happenings around us and unfortunately for others, it’s silence. Contrary to the common suggestion the emphasis doesn’t need to be where it happens, but when it happens. Regardless of where conversations about racial injustices and systemic racism occur, it is our job to ensure that they will happen and indefinitely continue. It starts with you, us, with everyone.
Why we need to communicate
You may not be the one to step up and call someone out on their inappropriate actions or start an emotionally heated conversation with your neighbor about the problems that are happening all around us, but nevertheless you are one who has an opinion, and a voice. Use it. Without conversation, new ideas and concepts cannot be spread to inform our surrounding peers. We are all familiar with people who are ignorant, biased, or inactive in this movement, as well as people who are active and present, but most importantly we need to be more familiar with the people who are directly affected by it. I am here to inspire you to spark a conversation with a person who falls short in any or all of those categories.
Ways to communicate effectively
Views will differ, opinions will manifest themselves in different ways, but the point entirely is to be open to hearing experiences and knowledge that may be different from your own. I challenge myself and you to have multiple conversations on topics of this nature that make you uncomfortable, curious, and passionate. Simply, by listening to what someone else has to say is in itself valuable and progressive.
Tips for communicating and listening effectively:
- Silence your phone or remove it from view
- Remove surrounding distractions (as best as you can) ie. noise, chatter, music
- Face the person and give them your undivided attention
- Ask open-ended questions
- Avoid aggressive actions, nonverbals, and verbals
- Try to keep an even and calm, yet informative tone when speaking
- Show compassion when warranted — it’s okay to have feelings and express emotion (rationally)
- Listen to hear what they have to say, formulate your response after they have finished their thought.
Listen to understand not to respond
My favorite tip, listed last, is one that has stuck with me since my Communication Theory class in my sophomore year. “Listen to understand, not to respond.” Meaning, take the time to hear where they are coming from. In current times, take the time to hear people of colors’ stories, experiences, reasonings, theories, ideas, passions, concerns, and opinions. You will be astounded at what you may learn. These are the most valuable conversations you could be having right now. These conversations will be difficult, uncomfortable, and hard. Suck it up.
My personal journey so far has been comprised of conversations with racists, young and old, anti-racists, young and old, black men and women, white teachers of slavery, indigenous women, professors, and doctors. In nearly all conversations, each perspective had something valuable to offer me. I hope this inspires you to keep pushing forward and spark change.
Ella Rechner is a third-year student at Grand Valley State University, studying Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in writing. She proudly serves on the GV PRSSA Executive Board for her second year and plans to continue her involvement with PRSA after her graduation in December 2020. Her favorite experience in the past year was competing in the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) finishing in fourth place at the National level. In her free time, you can find her drawing, painting, and watching the latest documentary on Netflix.