Maureen Wahu interviewed me about Women Can Renew the World If…and So Can You on her blog It’s a New Day! Maureen is one of few book bloggers who specialize in non-fiction. She asked some great questions. Answering them gave me an opportunity to comment on some of the things readers might ask.
With permission, I am pasting the entire interview below:
Congratulations on publishing your book. Do you consider this book a supplement to what you teach or can a person teach themselves using this book?
Thanks for asking. This book contains two different kinds of teaching.
The first part of the title, “Women Can Renew the World If…” pertains to the first kind or teaching. To your question, this is new material that I haven’t taught before or covered in my previous books. One can only learn it from the book or from me.
This first kind of teaching explains why women can renew the world if they achieve more equal status, visibility and credibility with men. Many women naturally practice or easily learn productive discussion skills. By modeling these skills for others, they can renew the world. They can replace polarization and combative dynamics with mutually satisfying conversations.
Some men and trans also naturally take to these skills. I have taught them and seen their successes. However, thinking in terms of significant numbers, the fastest way to get lots of people modeling the skills and renewing the world is to improve the status of women.
I extensively cover two factors that hold women back from achieving equal status: (1) subconscious bias against women, and (2) sexual harassment and abuse. Readers become well-equipped with the information to discuss these factors.
An example of subconscious bias: Would you want your son to grow up in a world where our species is referred to as “womankind”; “he” Is the generic pronoun for a person of unknown gender; and much more?
An example about harassment: Some women engineers have been forced to quit their jobs because men started false rumors that these women were planning to file EEOC complaints. The regulations designed to protect them were weaponized and turned against them.
The second kind of teaching presented in this text is suggested by the second half of the title, “and So Can You.” The book teaches the productive communication skills that many women take to, but anyone can learn and use.
So readers acquire both the information and the skill to productively discuss factors that suppress women. Plus they can also use and model the skills with respect to any other sensitive issue, thus helping to renew the world.
One can definitely learn skills from the book alone, through the how-to exercises and skills practice plans. However, people acquire true mastery through hands-on training, either before or after reading the book.
What are some of the ways we unknowingly turn a peaceful conversation into an argument?
By following knee-jerk impulses. Productive discussion skills are counterintuitive. They run contrary to instincts hardwired into the human brain in prehistoric times, instincts that don’t always serve us well nowadays.
Let’s say that Jeff expresses an opinion different from Helen’s opinion on a sensitive issue like economics, politics or sexual harassment. In a fraction of a second, Helen’s brain reads Jeff’s statement as a threat because humans instinctively resist being wrong. Her instinct is to fight, flee or freeze. Most likely, she fights, by arguing with Jeff. Now his brain senses a threat, and he escalates the argument back at Helen.
In short, the best way to start an argument is to start arguing. And the best way to escalate an argument is to argue back.
However, that doesn’t mean that, when someone challenges us, we just sit there and take it. Rather, we use skills that tend to de-escalate an argument, such as paraphrasing, asking open (not yes-or-no) questions, limiting use of the word “but,” time outs, and more.
Are good communicators naturally confident or does the confidence come after mastery of the skill?
For most people, confidence increases with practice, preferably beginning with simple situations that are not emotional hot buttons for them.
Again, bear in mind that the skills are counterintuitive. Thus, even one who knows the skills well should periodically practice in order to maintain skill and confidence. It’s sort of like baseball players practicing in a batting cage during the winter.
Is it ever too early to start learning persuasion skills?
No. On the contrary, it’s best to learn the skills before you find yourself in a sensitive situation.
Are there people who shouldn’t be equipped with persuasion skills?
Another knee-jerk instinct is to imagine that skills that persuade people must take advantage of people. Some might fear that others could use their skills against them.
The most effective persuasion skills, however, are grounded in understanding the other person’s perspective. What are their concerns? Then, try to come up with ways to address their concerns, while continuing to seek satisfaction of your own concerns as well.
Let’s say someone wants to convince me that Me Too whistleblowers are liars. Would I prefer that they yell at me and try to bully me? Of course not. I would prefer that they try to learn about my concerns and address them. I want others to use my skills with me.
What are some of the challenges of being a persuasion coach?
As The Persuasion Coach, I find that trainees get stuck on the specifics of an example, let’s say one in which a couple resolve their differences about where to go on vacation by agreeing to a Canada Rail tour of British Columbia. I hear “but what if’s” from the trainees. “But what if she can’t afford to go to Canada?” “But what if he gets motion sickness on trains?” I must continually remind them that the lesson is not about what to say or where to go on vacation, but rather, about how to figure out what to say and where to go.
Another challenge is that people tend to wait until the last moment to consult me when faced with a serious problem. They’re stressed out, which is not the best frame of mind for learning. I can help them. However, being a bit of a perfectionist, I imagine how much more I could have done if the client had been more relaxed, and we had had more time.
The ideal solution to our problems is one where neither party has to give up anything. Is it realistic to try and solve most of our problems without compromise?
Absolutely. If you approach the situation by seeking mutual satisfaction, you stimulate creative thinking. With a positive outlook, you are more likely to notice possible avenues to success. Then, even if you only get partial satisfaction, you’ll still find that you got more satisfaction than if you had started the conversation with a limited mindset.
I read of a study in which people seeking a new job were instructed to walk down a sidewalk and into a coffee house. Self-described optimists noticed a $20 bill the researchers had placed on the sidewalk and a person in the coffee house who would be good to network with. The pessimists didn’t notice the money or the person.
Is it right to exclude difficult people from important discussions?
So much depends on the details. How is the person difficult? By monopolizing the conversation? By finding fault with everything others suggest? Shouting or using obscene or abusive language?
What about relationships? Do the people all work in the same company, belong to the same organization, belong to the same family or live in the same neighborhood? Then bear in mind that you are bound to encounter this person in the future, and consider how being excluded from a conversation might affect necessary interactions between you in the future.
What is the nature of the conversation? Is it a meeting to make a decision that will affect everyone, including the difficult person? Or is it just a casual conversation?
Generally, it’s best to keep the difficult person involved in the discussion if you can. That’s where productive discussion skills can help. People are often amazed at how well the skills work once they learn them.
While planning a class for a corporate working group, my contact person warned me of an individual who would try to monopolize, and that I needed to keep a lid on her.
In class, all I did was paraphrase the “difficult” lady’s comments. She would reply, “Yes!” as if she were amazed and relieved that someone listened to her and understood what she said. Then she had no motivation to keep trying again and again to make her point (which is what she did when other team members had tried to “keep a lid on” her).
Their approach had been driving the very behavior to which they objected. At the end of the class, my contact person complimented me on how well I “handled” her.
There are situations in which a person should be excluded, for example, if the person becomes violent. In other situations, one party might have a legitimate need for privacy, for example, they wish to report sexual assault.
What are some daily practices that can enhance the way we communicate with others?
I think it’s fun, after watching a TV show or reading a story, to imagine how the characters might have communicated better with productive discussion skills. Think of fictional stories as your batting cage.
A lot of people go on social media and make inflammatory posts that end up polarizing others, do you have any social media accounts and how do you engage with such people?
Yes, I have some social media accounts, but I do not engage with inflammatory posts at all. It never does any good. It always makes matters worse.
That’s because, as mentioned above, people are hardwired to resist being wrong. The more inflammatory a statement you disagree with, the more you resist, don’t you? Well, it works the other way round too. The other person will resist your contrary ideas all the more if you express them on social media.
Many people were outraged when news broke that Facebook algorithms had been designed to detect what type of posts make you angry and send you more similar posts. The same thing can happen on YouTube. If you have been watching political diatribes, YouTube will show you more videos on the same side of the same subject in the right hand column. (Facebook has since tried to change such use of algorithms.)
In the How To section at the end of Chapter 1, I emphasize the importance of having real conversations for any complicated or touchy topic. Here’s a list of means of communication from the most effective to the least effective:
- In person conversation
- Virtual conversation
- Phone conversation
- Letter or email
- Text message
- Social media
Social media is not only ineffective in discussing politics, social issues and the like, it is counterproductive. It makes both parties to an interchange dig their heels deeper into their own opinions. It gives a person a sense of semi-anonymity they would not have in a real conversation, so they let down their inhibitions and good manners. They feel safe to get nasty.
Just don’t go there.
Thanks so much for this interview!
If readers have further questions, they can submit them on the contact page of my website, http://www.persuasioncoach.com.
I read all of it and enjoyed Margaret’s interview. I am in full agreement with her on her perspectives. Her book has touched on topics that I know are very real, but I haven’t been able to put into words what I feel about them, and she did. Thanks, Margaret! JB
Thanks so much John. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that’s a book is doing what I intended it to do when I wrote it.