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Courageous Conversations - A New Bubble


July, 2020

Pondering the idea of a new type of protective bubble – a ‘courageous conversation’  bubble as opposed to a ‘health’ bubble. Bubbles which are purposefully established to enable individuals (or teams) to safely prepare for, rehearse, and debrief after difficult conversations.

New Zealand is out of lock-down, and we New Zealanders are enjoying freedoms that not so long ago we took for granted and with little fear of contracting COVID19 (let’s hope that lasts). We have returned to life outside of our protective ‘bubbles’ and this is something to celebrate.

However, the flow-on effects of COVID are significant and will be much longer lasting. For example, the Infometrics' July forecast expects unemployment to edge above 8 percent this year and peak at 9.7 percent next year (RNZ, 2020). To put this into context, the current unemployment rate is 4% (Stats NZ, 2020). Infometrics’ chief forecaster, Gareth Kiernan, also recently signalled that the “GDP will not surpass its 2019 level until 2023 and that the recovery will be much more of a long, hard slog than general sentiment currently suggests” (RNZ, 2020). Many once-thriving businesses will sadly go under during this period too.

In this environment, very few New Zealanders, if any, will go unaffected. Even if we, as individuals, remain in paid employment, manage to keep our businesses afloat, or have enough funds to ride out these tough times or even innovate, we will all have people close to us who are affected. I already see, in my daily work, conflict on the rise generally, and not just among those directly affected by COVID.

There is a lot of talk right now about the need to grow personal and organisational resilience and, yes, without doubt, both are critical – we must all recognise and sensitively respond to the core human emotions (our own and others) of grief, loss, and anxiety, all of which are currently at heightened levels in our home, social and work lives.

Less is said on the ‘how to’ side of having the associated important conversations, particularly those related to the expressions of anger or sadness, feelings of isolation and loss, and fear and anxiety around an unknown future.

New Zealand as a population likes things to ‘be nice’ – we lie high on the population personality trait scale for agreeableness (Sibley & Pirie, 2013) and this trait can result in a delay or full avoidance of a difficult conversation, or, when a conversation does proceed, a lot of skirting around the issues. The topics of mental and emotional health still carry taboos, and naturally, most of us dislike and fear the thought of conflict.

However, now more than ever, New Zealanders need to be having timely and effective difficult conversations (and not avoiding them) – it is essential to our personal and collective recovery over what will be an extended period. It is also critical to us thriving, and not just surviving moving forward. This will require us, as individuals and organisations, to enhance our ‘courageous conversation’ skills (along with resilience skills), skills that we seldom get taught as a set in life but can be transformational in both good and bad times. It will require us to step out of our comfort zones, be open to learning from our experiences, and not give up trying (practice is essential).

We could support each other by creating a new type of protective bubble – ‘courageous conversation’ as opposed to ‘health’ bubbles. Ones which are purposefully established to enable individuals (or teams) to safely prepare for, rehearse, and debrief after difficult conversations. Bubbles in which our fellow occupants remain neutral as they listen to us, encourage us to be curious rather than judgmental, help us to build our courage, and share in the learning (or unlearning as the case may be). Bubbles in which all parties (not just several) are encouraged and supported to have the important conversations that we would rather avoid.

Robyn Hill is an accredited mediator, a courageous conversation and conflict management coach, a facilitator of important meetings and conversations, and a trainer and presenter on the topic of courageous conversations. She is the Director of Courageous Conversations NZ.


Radio New Zealand (23/07/2020). New Zealand unemployment expected to worsen, peak next year. Retrieved from: https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/money/2020/07/new-zealand-unemployment-expected-to-worsen-peak-next-year.html

Stats NZ Tatauranga Aotearoa (2020). Unemployment rate June 2020 quarter. Retrieved from: https://www.stats.govt.nz/indicators/unemployment-rate

Sibley, C. G., & Pirie, D. J. (2013). Personality in New Zealand: Scale Norms and Demographic Differences in the Mini-IPIP6. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42(1), 13–30. Retrieved from https://www.psychology.org.nz/journal-archive/Sibley3.pdf

Bonisch-Brednich, B. (2008). Watching the Kiwis: New Zealanders Rules of Social Interaction - an Introduction. The Journal of New Zealand Studies, (6/7), 3–13. doi: 10.26686/jnzs.v0i6/7.131

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