Difficult conversations are all around us right now. In order to conduct a more constructive and meaningful discussion, it requires purpose and foresight on tackling tough topics. Conversations about systemic racism, sexism, or treatment of those with disabilities remain important because employees in the field of cleared jobs are often asked about policy, national security, and must both be very clear on where the legal line is drawn but also should understand how they can participate in meaningful conversations.


The line drawn by the SF86’s “Association Record,” asks the question, “Have you EVER been a member of an organization that advocates or practices commission of acts of force or violence to discourage others from exercising their rights under the U.S. Constitution or any state of the United States with the specific intent to further such action?”  The heart of this question focuses an assurance that clearance holders, who are in a position of trust, are not violently discouraging others from exercising their civil rights. Discussions about extremist, fringe groups espousing violence, and hateful rhetoric are not topics of discussion. Instead, opening a dialogue on the topic of minorities, women, and people with disabilities within the Intelligence Community requires everyone’s engagement and are tough subjects people must discuss.

It’s not what you say – it’s how you say it

For those engaging in difficult conversations, there are ways to keep the dialogue on track. Start the conversation with a distraction-less attitude; refrain from looking at a computer screen or out the window. Approximately 55% of the emotional content of a spoken message is transmitted nonverbally through body language and facial expressions. Combine this with the tone of voice that accounts for 38% of someone’s feelings and attitudes, and only 7% of communication hinges on the words used. It’s not just the words you use in communication, but how your demeanor comes across to the recipient that matters.

The 3 Fs

Using strategies from people who work in sales is a sure way to open the door to a tough conversation. The Feel, Felt, Found technique is a proven strategy of moving individuals to a new way of thinking. 

  1. “I understand how you feel.” Letting the person you’re speaking with know that you heard him or her.
  2. “Initially, other people (someone relatable) felt that same way.” This lets him or her know that this sentiment in thought was common but can change.
  3. “What they found, however, was that after seeing/reading/hearing/acknowledging (the tough topic) something changed.” This provides the space for a discussion on how people can speak up and act in instances of racism, sexism, and disability discrimination.

Realistic Expectations

You’re unlikely to change someone’s mind after just one conversation. Go into these discussions with a pragmatic attitude. It helps avoiding a feeling of disappointment and frustration by the lack of change after one conversation. By understanding how to move from a debate (where persuasion is the goal) to a dialogue (uncovering what’s important to the other person), the conversation is likely to produce a more meaningful result. Through dialogue, opportunities for teams to know one another better, as well as holding tough conversations, results in a more cohesive culture where openness reigns, fear dissolves, and evolution occurs.

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Candice Frost is an active duty Army officer and a leadership consultant. Her work in intelligence on the Army Staff provides her unique insights on the highest levels of leadership in DoD. She is a public speaker who focuses on mentorship and leader development. She lives in Washington, DC and can be reached at candicefrost1776@gmail.com