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Let's Talk: How to Have the Conversation

Let's Talk: How to Have the Conversation

“If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see.” 
James Baldwin xvi

Before you decide to have a conversation, take the time to educate yourself, find some support for you, and make a plan for what you want to say and where you would like to have this conversation. This is not easy to do, and it is always helpful to talk through your options and opportunities.  

Confidential Resources    
Talking with friends about sex and sexual conduct can be uncomfortable. Students may feel particularly hesitant to talk about behaviors that were concerning, questionable or problematic -- whether it was their own interaction or another person’s -- in part out of concern about getting themselves or someone else in trouble with the school or with law enforcement.  

Because of these concerns, talking with someone who is a confidential resource can be a great place to start.  A campus may have a confidential counseling center or resource provider and if not, there are national hotlines to access.

Preparation: Getting Ready

Educate yourself:  Take the time to explore what resources you have access to on campus, off campus and online; practice talking about healthy relationships, consent and boundaries; and think about how to talk about the impact your friend or classmate may have had on you and others.  Some campuses will have counseling available, alternative resolution options, support services, and educational programs.  

Get Support: Whatever you decide to do, you don’t have to do this alone. In fact, these behaviors thrive in silence. An ally can help you think through your concerns and hesitations, talk about any fears you may have (e.g., damaging your relationship, retaliation, or setting off a wider campus exchange), consider what you want to say, and practice saying the words out loud. They can also help care for your safety, both emotional and physical, and debrief with you after you have the conversation.  

Make a Plan: Sometimes the opportunity will just happen or the person you are concerned about may approach you with concerns that they crossed the line. It is still helpful to have a plan and commit to it. A plan includes finding the right time and place to talk, face-to-face and putting phones and other technology aside. A plan also includes finding the right words about how you want to raise the issue. (see next section) 

Having the Talk 

While it may be easier to just do nothing, it is so much healthier for you, for your friendships, and your campus community to be able to talk about what is happening. By talking, you are helping to set a clear social norm for openness, transparency, and communication. Equally important, true friendships are based upon shared values, trust, and keeping each other’s best interests in mind.  

When you approach someone, the reactions may vary. They may be willing to talk and be open to exploring next steps, or they might try to shut down the conversation. They also might be angry when it is raised but then approach you again next week, feeling ready to talk.  Being clear about why you want to have the conversation helps to ground you, regardless of the reaction.  

Begin the Conversation:  When you have found a quiet place to have a conversation without interruptions, it is helpful to think about how to frame the conversation. You want to open a difficult topic in a way that will be well-received. Below are some ideas, but the core value of your conversation is that you are raising this issue because you care about them. You can say that explicitly or you can convey this through what you say. Remember, this is a conversation with someone you know about the impact of what they did and said. You are not there to start a confrontation.  

Starting a Conversation
"Hey, can we talk about last night for a minute?"
"I care about you, and what I saw last night worried me."
"Do you remember what happened?”

Explore the Situation: Talk about what you saw and what you may have felt – be honest and direct.  Showing that you care about them as a person is not the same as being ok with how you perceived their actions. In fact, expressing your concerns is a way of showing you care.
It is helpful to talk about specific behaviors that you have seen or specific language that you heard. Give concrete examples but do not label them as abuse or harassment or assault. Take the time to explore the situation together and most of all, try to stay connected with the person you are talking with. Do not attack, but it is OK to say that you had a different opinion or a different reaction.  

When you are having the conversation, remember to breathe and stay grounded. Concentrate on the person you are talking with and what they are saying.  Your body language is important and ideally, you want to convey that you care about the person you are speaking with.  

Explore the Situation
"Here's what it looked like from my perspective, and why it worried me..."
“I was nervous, too, to have this conversation with you…  but I care about you and that means I have to say something.”
“I know that everyone laughed at the time, but what do you think your family or your younger sister/brother would feel about it?”
“When you do that, it’s not just affecting one person. It’s affecting the community.”

Ending the First Talk:  This is not a one-time conversation, so you can end the talk with a question about what next steps THEY want to do. They may or may not be able to answer the question right away, but it opens the door to more conversations. Even if they have been reluctant or resistant, you can suggest that they may want to check-in again after they have had time to digest what you talked about. If they are angry or upset, that does not mean you are wrong. Do not rise to the bait or match their energy.  Just stay calm and repeat that you care about them.  You can also remind them that you are talking with them because you want to make sure that they and others are OK. They may also be open to hearing about the resources available to them and what resources you found. Let them know that you or possibly others are available to them if they choose to go a bit deeper.  
After the conversation is over be sure to take the time to debrief with your ally. This might be a friend or a confidential resource on campus. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone and in fact, it is important for you to have the support and appreciation for reaching out.  

Ending a Conversation
“I appreciate how you listened to my concerns, thank you. Do you want to check in again?”  
“I know this is upsetting.  I’ll be here when you are ready to talk about this.”
"I know you don’t want this to happen again.  What do you think might help things go differently?"
"Thank you for talking about this with me - could we talk again next week?"

Next Steps

Now that you have had the conversation, what is next?  In large part, it depends upon the conversation and what they want to do going forward.  The conversation may have gone well, or not very well. You may have found out the behavior was consensual, and you are no longer concerned, or you may still have concerns, and your friend or classmate may have set out a clear agenda for what they want to do.  
Regardless of how the conversation evolved, the conversation will have an impact. You are now someone who your friend and others can talk with about difficult topics.  You are “askable!”  You may want to sit with that for a minute and then think about what is next.  

Keep the Connection: If this makes sense for you, keep the connection and the conversation going.  By being connected and holding onto your values, you are a pro-social protective factor for this friend or classmate.  Their actions are not your responsibility, but you can remind them of the impact of what they do and say.   

Identify Resources: Help them identify and connect to the resources on campus (if available) as well as any resources off campus or online.  On campus resources may include responsible party services, counseling, educational programs, or alternative resolution options.  You can visit the additional resources page.

Safety planning: You may have a confidential resource on campus who can help with safety planning. Many think about safety planning for students who have been harmed, but this is also a tool for those who are responsible for some form of harm.  A safety plan can include helping your friend or classmate who caused harm to look at their support people and systems.  It may involve changing their housing, class or work schedule, connecting with a mentor, or shifting their social circles to help reinforce healthier decisions.  

Continue to Educate Yourself: Understanding these dynamics, learning about the resources on campus and off campus, and getting comfortable with these conversations all takes time.  But it can be a part of your own growth and commitment to a safer community. 

If you are able to have this conversation, even to bring up the topic, you have made it clear that this is something you can talk about.  You are “askable” if other concerns rise up.  

Next: You are Told that YOU Have Crossed the Line

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