One of the four conversations of the Difficult Conversations book is the identity conversation. Identity is an important part of a conversation because it defines how we see ourselves and a difficult conversation can challenge our identity of ourselves. And if a conversation challenges how we see ourselves then it is going to be more difficult to have.

The Difficult Conversations book describes three core identities:

  • Am I competent?
  • Am I good person?
  • Am I worthy of love?

If we are challenged on any of these three aspects of our identity, it has the potential to be painful and provoke a reaction from us.

Identity is a bit more complex than simply how I see myself. It is also about how I really am and how you see me. How I really am is unlikely to be how I see myself as I am constantly filtering the view of myself to maintain my current image of myself. I am lilkey to ignore information that does not support that view. As a difficult conversation unfolds I am likely to dismiss information that contradicts my self view, and my denial is likely to add to tensions.

How you see me is restricted by the context in which we meet, you only see certain aspects of me. Interacting with people at work can be very different to interacting with them socially. We all build up a veneer that we wear depending on our circumstances. So your picture of me is only a partial view of the way I am in total.

Also, if we know one another we already have a picture of one another and may filter new information to support or contradict our current view.