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Courageous conversations

Hemingway once referred to courage as grace under pressure.

These words talk about Luz.

Luz Mendez participated in the peace negotiations in Guatemala from 1991 to 1996 as a member of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity. The peace process put an end to a cruel and violent conflict in which the government’s counterinsurgent operations massively targeted indigenous people and rural communities.

Luz Mendez, who died in August 2021, talked in an interview about when she joined the negotiation team and was invited to the first informal meeting with the ten members of the government delegation, four of which were army generals.

There she was, in front of the people responsible for the extrajudicial killings, genocide and murders of thousands of innocent people, many of whom had been her close relatives and friends.

There she was, shaking their hands and holding a glass of wine in front of them.

Can you imagine the feeling? This is what she said about that moment.

They gave me a glass of wine and I could not drink it. When we left the place, I felt something in my throat. I am sure my colleagues also had strong emotions, but we never spoke about that.”

That's how much courage it takes to sit down and talk in some circumstances.

Most of us don’t have to confront this kind of challenging conversation, but we find it equally hard to sit down and talk about situations, feelings or events when we felt hurt, offended or ignored.

Although it may not be particularly helpful in the heat of the moment, it’s good to remember that some people negotiate and talk about really tough things on a regular basis.

It can be done.


By believing that an agreement is possible and is a better alternative than continuing to fight.

Because you’re investing in hope as a vision for the future.

And because you choose to tell a better story about the future and the past.

Rather than looking only at the injustice and the pain, you see the possibility of societal regeneration, the future of the generations to come and the creation of opportunities for all.

Like Maixabel Lasa, who decided to sit down and talk to the man ( and later forgive him) who killed her husband

It’s easier to negotiate and talk when we’re able to think about our common best interests – your own and those of the person in front of you.

If the story that matters to you doesn’t take the person across the table into account, no matter what he’s done to you or to others, you still have some work to do.


Double-check with others. Allow your emotions to flow.

Find a coach to pivot your story.

There is great strength and courage in looking beyond “my story”. The courageous and transformative work that emerges from difficult conversations comes from shifting our inner story from “I” to “we.”


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