How To Handle Courageous Conversations (Elf Variation)

Ambitious Resilience, Belonging, Change & Reinvention, Human First Leadership

The first Christmas present I gave my husband was a bauble I’d found on the tube.

We moved into our first home a week before Christmas and our budget didn’t stretch to tinsel or sparkly lights I had the idea that we would buy one special decoration each December so that in 30 years time we’d have a spectacular Christmas tree.

That year the best we could afford was a bauble that had fallen off a drunk guy’s Christmas hat somewhere between Leicester Square and Tooting Bec.

The plan is working and so far we have 21 decadent decorations! Each one has a memory like the door from the year we bought our first house, the star from Trinity’s first Christmas and the slightly terrifying lifelike robin from the year I mistakenly let my kids choose.

In 2011 I found the perfect addition to our bauble collection. It was little elves tucked up in bed that the guy at the stall was personalising with the names of family members! I was with two of my kids (aged 8 and 6 at the time) and pregnant with my youngest so we started looking for a 5-elf version.

There were options from 1 to 8 family members – including pets! The only problem was that we couldn’t find a combination that looked like our family. So I asked the guy selling them…

Me: These are great! We buy a special decoration every year and I love your elves! Do you have any brown ones?

Manager: No, we only have normal ones.

Trin and Jake gasped. I smiled mentally reminding myself that this was a great opportunity to model one way of dealing with being ‘othered’. Something my kids were going to have to navigate repeatedly. On this occasion, I chose to invite the fella into a courageous conversation.

Me: Normal ones? That’s an interesting description.

Manager: Alright love, no need to get a chip on your shoulder. I’m just saying no one ever asks for brown ones.

Me: Ahh I see. Except, that’s no longer true is it? Because I’m asking for a brown one. A family of brown elves would be super cool!

Manager: Well, there’s no such thing as brown elves.

Me: Mate, I hate to break this to you but there’s no such thing as elves period. You’ve built your entire business on a throne of lies.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get the reference and was clearly thrown off by the playful but committed tone of my delivery. He just stared at me with a quizzical look so I seized the opportunity to forge our friendship further.

Me: I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. I’ll buy this one for now and I’ll come back next year. Give you a chance to source some niche elves.

The next year he saw me coming and pretended to be engrossed in wrestling with a giant roll of bubble wrap.

Me: Hello again! Remember me? Got any brown elves yet?

In 2015 we had a breakthrough when he actually smiled instead of rolling his eyes as I approached. He was genuinely excited to see me and told me I would be pleased to hear that he had a new product line!

Then tried to sell me a family of five reindeer.

Me: Yeah, I see what you’ve done there and you’re getting closer. Right colour, wrong species.

We’ve gotten to know each other over the years. Through brief interactions, we found some common ground as humans. The last time we chatted he agreed to ask his wholesaler if he could lay his hands on any brown elves!

I’m not discounting the experience of being excluded. Far from it! His first throwaway comment about ‘normal ones’ made me feel angry. But in that moment I made a choice. I had the capacity required to engage so I pushed my fear aside and jumped in.

I’m not always in that headspace. If I gifted a courageous conversation every time I faced some form of bias I’d barely have time for life and I’d be exhausted all the time. My choice to engage whenever I can is because I want change more than I want to be right.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be right a lot (ask my husband) I just want change more.

Nothing will change until our desire for things to be different is bigger, stronger and more powerful than your fear of trying.

Change tends to require collaboration. I’ve repeatedly found people to be one sandwich away from accepting an invitation into a courageous conversation if I can just find the bravery needed to invite them.

What do you want to change in 2022? The lockdowns of the last two years have provided you with an opportunity to get curious about how satisfied you are with your life. What do you want more or less of? What do you need to do next? What happens if you don’t take any action at all?

Starting in January I’m inviting you to your own personal 10% Braver Bootcamp. Sign up and I’ll send you a short weekly video with a new challenge each week. There are still a few spaces and I’d love to spend a month with you!

P.S. The photo is an incredible gift from my fantastic friend Charlie made for me this year! She couldn’t find brown elves either so bought white ones and hand dyed them! Check out the hairstyles too! It’s Team Ampaw-Felves!

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