My new book not only contains a lot of information related to the first half of the title, Women Can Renew the World If..., the whys, the hows, the meaning of the “If,” it also features info on the second half of the title …and So Can You, skills anyone of any gender can learn and use to help women renew the world.
Each chapter ends with a How To section including instructions, examples, or hands-on exercises for productively discussing sensitive issues. Chapter 10 lays out step-by-step plans to help you practice and solidify the skills introduced in the How To sections. And there’s a bonus–you can use the skills to discuss any sensitive issue.
You can even use these skills to deal with what’s going on in your own head. These days, I’ve got plenty of that, from the issues raised in the book to the war in Ukraine to my search for a new hairdresser.
This book excerpt tells us how to keep in mental and emotional shape for discussing difficult issues:
Keep-Your-Cool Fitness Training
It seems that, every time I see an article about how to improve one’s health in any respect—heart, brain, immune system, you name it—meditation comes up. I highly recommend it as a way to prepare to keep your cool during any challenging interaction.
However, meditation will not help you much if you don’t do it until the day before you anticipate a discussion about a touchy topic. Rather, make it a regular practice—daily, if possible. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s more effective to meditate sometime in the afternoon, rather than right before you go to bed. Any meditation, however, is better than no meditation. Similarly, twenty or thirty minutes is great, but even ten minutes per day is helpful.
A friend once asked me, “How can you keep your mind from wandering for twenty minutes?” The short answer is, I can’t. Like a lot of people, this friend misunderstood what meditation really is. The whole idea is to relax both your body and your mind. If you are struggling to keep your mind from wandering and becoming frustrated with yourself when it veers off course, you are on the wrong track. In fact, one of the best definitions of meditation I have read is: notice when your mind has wandered and gently bring it back.
Most of the brief descriptions of meditation suggest focusing on your breathing, but there are many other ways to meditate. The general idea is to occupy your mind with something bland to give it a break from more complex, serious, urgent, or even upsetting thoughts.
You can meditate by watching the flame of a candle or walking a maze or labyrinth. You can focus on a small patch of lawn, so that you begin to notice little details, such as insects and tiny flowers, that hadn’t registered with your conscious mind. Even concentrating fully on mundane tasks like washing dishes can be a meditation.
In a state of anxiety, most people inhale slowly and exhale quickly. This might be a good tactic if you’re being chased by a bear. However, if what’s making you anxious is the prospect of discussing a touchy topic, it’s better to do the opposite, exhale slowly.
You don’t need to wait until the discussion actually begins. It’s better to practice this type of breathing routinely. You can incorporate it into your meditation practice. You can do it while taking a break from your computer. Humming, singing, or playing a wind instrument automatically causes you to exhale slowly.
Anticipate Challenging Statements or Questions
Then plan ways to respond to such statements and questions, but don’t become a robot who automatically spits out these responses on autopilot. Always listen carefully to what the other person says and tailor your response to their apparent interests, their words, and your reading of their facial expressions and body language.
You can bump this up a notch by practicing with one or more partners. Once, in preparing for a difficult conversation with some not-very-collegial colleagues, I decided to practice with people I had met in a different group and a non-work-related context. As one of these practice partners, I chose the crusty old man whom a lot of the younger members avoided because they found him intimidating. I figured that, if I could handle his questions and challenges, I could handle anything, and that’s exactly how it worked out in the real-world meeting the next day.
Similarly, like the best writers I know, I seek honest critique of important work before I publish.
After you have practiced the fitness training methods described above for a while, practice actual conversations with slightly touchy topics. You will find that keeping your cool will be easier when really touchy topics arise.
If you liked this little how-to example, there’s plenty more where that came from in Women Can Renew the World If…and So Can You.