Creative Conflict

First off, there are many reasons to be angry at this point in history. We realize we are mad as hell, feel distressed, because in this country, these United States of America, the status of women and children is important to us. So let’s start there: country-wide conflicts educate and inform us of who we are and what we value.

I find myself thinking about my values because last night I attended a seminar on Navigating Conflict in the Workplace for NYU alumni, led by Erik Yazdani.

Here were some strategies I learned and then I dive into greater detail below:
1. Get on the balcony to see the dance floor
2. Collapsing vs. Opening Up Your Thinking
3. Know Negotiation Theory
4. Use Systems Thinking
5. Identify Your Core Identities

1. You have to see the bigger picture. Make sure in your mind’s eye, in the film of your story, you shoot the establishing shot. This is tough for me. I am someone who does not always see the forest for the trees. As a writer I am exquisite at getting lost in the details. When I paint, I can get into the smallest of brush strokes. But composition? Setting the scene? Not so much.

2. Yazdani demonstrated the idea of collapse vs. opening up by showing two images — one of two people facing each other in a heated exchange. The other, two people on a park bench staring off together into the distance. This is a good image for me. As one of the world’s greatest bench sitters, I love the vista and relaxation of a moment on a park bench. I love to look outwards at a body of water towards the common good.

3. Negotiation theory is that idea of Getting to Yes. Ask open-ended questions. Find wiggle room. Find the places where there is more than one possible answer or way out. We discussed the example of the car salesperson who may not be able to negotiate on price but may be able to negotiate on the timing of the car payments.

4. Systems Thinking involves recognizing that there’s a whole back story to each of us. And we may have to compromise. What a radical concept — compromise. We are all coming to our own understandings and conclusions, given our own habits, styles, personal histories.

5. Core identities refers to our values. Conflict calls these into question. When I am in conflict, I definitely become sensitive, withdrawn and, yes, emotional. Because I care! But my heated emotions may trigger your defensiveness. And the goal is to NOT EVER trigger the other person’s defensiveness, because then, we have just begun a tug of war. We are not able to listen empathetically to one annother. We are only listening to win.

Conflict helps us identify our core identities, so we ask:

  • Am I competent?
  • Am I a good person?
  • Am I worthy of love?
  • Am I able to stand up for myself?

Other take-aways from last night’s session about difficult conversations include the advice to:
1. Start well — set a tone of curiosity rather than certainty. (Love this!)
2. Imagine you are speaking from the place of a third-party party mediator. I have said this to my kids: imagine you are your own lawyer. Yes, speak up for yourself, but do so factually, rationally. Be a self advocate. Be lawyerly. Self-advocacy is a tool that takes practice.

Yazdani recommends these books: Difficult Conversations and Leadership on the Line.

I also remind you of the amazing The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. For women and especially for us at this moment in history, this book explains why we cry when we are angry. Back when it came out, this book changed my life. I was able to see that there were some people to whom I could speak up to when I felt injured or hurt, but there were others for whom I could not (and should not) i.e., my boss or my teacher.

Lerner also taught strategies for not blaming someone else but using your “I” statements — like a broken record, if necessary. State your emotions — from the “I” point of view — again and again, if you are not heard the first time. Stay empathetic and thoughtful. (Yes, curious, too.)

I have also always loved the book Getting to Yes. When I led the middle school debate club at school, I wanted to use this text, but it is a little advanced for preteens. I love the idea that in conflict negotiation, all parties can win.

“Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others.” – Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships 

“People listen better if they feel that you have understood them. They tend to think that those who understand them are intelligent and sympathetic people whose own opinions may be worth listening to. So if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.” – Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In

Central Park Bench
There must be a story behind every plaque on every Central Park bench.
Reservoir park bench
Near the reservoir you have flowers, tee shirts, shorts, coffee, and citibikes galore.

For more information from Erik Yazdani on Navigating Conflict, check out:

Nice, SuperNice

Mother Theresa statue, Struga
Mother Theresa statue, Struga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like 20 years ago, I was temping at a bank in New Rochelle. I was working for a banker — I forget his name — but he was younger than me by a few years. But he seemed older. He was getting over some kind of cancer. He used to buy me lunch almost every day. He seemed confused by me.

Then, he told me why. “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.”

“Really?” That seemed weird. I’m no Mother Theresa. I get impatient and insecure on a daily basis. I felt sorry for this banker — I mean, if I was the nicest person he’d ever met! Well, that just seemed sad.

Still. Nice gets a bad wrap. I remember in the book The Happiness Project when Gretchen Rubin is super-nice to everyone in her life for a week as a path to happiness. No one really notices her niceness and she’s glad when the week’s over ’cause it feels like kinda a waste of time. And niceness requires a lot of effort.

I have felt that my niceness is, at times, perceived as stupidity. (Especially at work — when the cynical males were perceived as smart and the young female optimists were seen as fools. Well ha! Fools have more laughs than cynics!)

I can’t help it. I am compulsively nice. And this kind of “nice girl” syndrome has cost me. Maybe in being nice I have swallowed some honest emotion.

Still. In the long run, I’d rather be overly nice than overly critical or mean.

My daughter and I had a screaming match yesterday and she accused me of being so mean. And ugh, that hurt. In a quieter moment, I asked my husband, “Was I mean?”

“When you two lock horns, no one wins,” he said. Which, I think, meant, ‘Yes, you were unfair or unkind.’ Hey, I thought, I’m sorry. And you only hurt the ones you love.

I don’t want to get into the deets of the argument, but my daughter and I talked it out later and we both promised to do better next time — to give each other a little more patience and more room to breath. Tough stuff. At least for me. Me? The nicest person you’ve ever met.

I have blogged about this before. And interestingly enough, I also wrote about my daughter four years ago in the blog post the power of niceness. I, then, too, referenced the Happiness Project and my resentment about workplace sarcasm winning over niceness. Weird. Four years later. I’m writing about the same stuff.

And still. Niceness wins. Every time.

Compassion, too.

This post was inspired by Daily Prompt: Nice Is as Nice Does

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What To Do With My Free Time: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

I thought when I left my job more than six months ago, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Um, not so much. As my friend, Linda B. said, “Looks like you’re having fun!”

Work is overrated. A regular paycheck definitely has its benefits, but there are way more valuable assets than money. One of which is time. I have had time, especially recently to visit with old friends.

photo (10)
On one of these scorching hot days, we walked the High Line, the public park converted from railroad tracks. After walking this path from 30th street for a mile and a quarter down into NYC’s trendiest neighborhood, MeaPa, (the meat packing district), we stopped for brunch.
The flowers on the High Line are lovely.
The flowers on the High Line are lovely.

Besides time with friends, there’s something I’ve come to treasure lately: time alone — to read and paint.

Book club seems to be on a summer hiatus. I’m a huge Kindle fan, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of books: all kinds of books (don’t judge me): feminist, erotic, non-fiction, self help.

I started these three. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too.
These three books are on my bedside. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too. (Lest you think I’ve lost my literary bent.)

I love to make collage art and book journals.

I started taking class again at Art Students League. You receive very little instruction, but you get a ton of inspiration. Here’s a little project I worked on.

I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.
I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.

And then of course, I work on my biz, Boot Camp for Writers, teaching memoir writing workshops. I love teaching and writing. It’s really all I want to do. Well, that and walk the High Line, visit friends, make art, go to the theater, perform improv, make short films, and read books. That’s all.

Here’s the latest offering for the writing workshop biz: An afternoon memoir workshop and an evening salon in the Adirondacks – August 29, Thursday, 2-9, $25, dinner on your own.

This post was inspired by the daily post: a mystery