In the Works: Talking about Touchy Topics–“Me Too” and Beyond

In a 2018 blog post, “Me Too: Questions and Analogies,” I addressed questions about the Me Too movement, in which women speak up about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. People had questions about this whistle blower movement, reasonable questions that have reasonable answers. A friend I’ll call “Tom” sent me an intriguing email about that post:

“Your combination of wisdom, insight, depth and empathy is rare these days, with so much subjectivity and shallow, slanted media hype, especially about sensitive issues like the Me Too movement. You didn’t take sides, even though it’s probably happened to you and maybe still does. You talked about both sides of it and said what…people are thinking but can’t come out and say…that’s what I thought when I read it:  ‘I feel the same way.'”

What a “wow” moment. Tom had handed me something I’d been seeking for years.

I’ve published two books on successfully dealing with others, Bridges to Consensus and Love on the Rocks with a Twist. Another dealing-with-others book had been percolating in my mind, a book applying the skills I teach to difficult conversations about sensitive matters including, but not limited to, so-called “women’s issues.” But how to lead into this subject matter? I wanted a focal point, a primary example on which to apply the communication skills in detail. A touchy topic that would interest a large number of readers. Questions about Me Too might be the perfect focal point.

Checking back with Tom, I first assured myself that, by “both sides,” he did not mean the harassers, on the one hand, and the women they harassed or assaulted, on the other hand. No way did I want to suggest that I saw no moral difference between the harassers and the survivors. But Tom meant, on the one hand, the whistle blowers, and on the other hand, those who questioned the whistle blowers’ motives.

Tom’s comment showed that a lot of people who harbored Me Too questions weren’t asking them. And those who did ask didn’t always get answers; the women they asked didn’t know how to answer in a convincing manner, but without burning a bridge. So they didn’t answer at all.

It does no good whatsoever if decent people’s honest questions go unanswered. Lots of men, and some women, wonder, for example, “If the Me Too whistle blowers aren’t just in it for money, why do they only out rich men?” We do well to treat the questions of well-meaning people as gifts, opportunities to build understanding, thereby helping entire societies to progress.

Yet, when a question, however well-intentioned, shows so little understanding of what one has been up against, how excruciatingly difficult it is for a survivor to talk about sexual mistreatment, it’s hard to answer calmly. It’s hard not to show frustration, even anger. But responding in the throes of such feelings is more likely to distance well-meaning questioners than to help them see our perspective.

The skills in this new book will show women, as well as male supporters, how to get comfortable answering such questions, and thus, making others comfortable asking follow up questions. Likewise, the skills will help those who harbor questions to ask them in a sensitive, non-inflammatory manner. Results: synergy and productive dialogue.

You can use these same skills to converse more comfortably about all sorts of sensitive issues. In fact, once you learn to handle Me Too dialogue, some of those other issues will be a snap. At work, home, in your community, or anywhere you wish to build bridges, rather than burn them, you’ll find these skills invaluable. Not only will you improve your own personal interactions, you’ll also make this world a better place for everyone.