The Best Seat Is Often In The Balcony

In a recent conversation with a close friend I noticed I was getting angry and decided to “go to the balcony”* so I could avoid blurting out something I would later regret. This helped me take a broader view of what was actually going on and remember how important this friend is to me. “Going to the balcony”—as if you were looking down on an interaction from the distance of a balcony—can change your perspective … Read more…

Artful Waiting

Recently during a workshop on mindful communication, Russell Delman  asked an evocative question: “What is ‘waiting?’” We wait in line to pay for items in a grocery store; we wait on the phone to talk to a live human being, and women in particular often wait to use public restrooms. While we wait, many of us get agitated, wanting this moment to end so the next thing can happen: return home with groceries, talk to … Read more…

Tackling “…ist” Talk

To begin 2018 I offer two pieces on how to counter talk that undercuts and damages our ability to interact in constructive ways. The first one, Tackling Toxic Talk, considered how to stop toxic talk in the work place. This one explores how to handle talk that cuts close to people’s core: degrading comments about race, ethnicity, gender, age and sexual orientation. When faced with degrading comments about anyone’s race, ethnicity, gender, age, or sexual … Read more…

Tackling Toxic Talk

To begin 2018 I offer two pieces on how to counter talk that undercuts and damages our ability to interact in constructive ways. This first one considers how to stop toxic talk in the work place. The next one explores how to handle talk that cuts close to people’s core: degrading comments about race, ethnicity, gender, age and sexual orientation.  I wish you a wonderful New Year, -Mary   “Public statements are not private,” asserts … Read more…

Four Rivers of Life in 2017

Roger and I have organized our last newsletter of 2017 in the Four Rivers of Life that we learned from Angeles Arrien (1940-2014) during our many years of study with her. According to Angeles, many traditional societies believe that these rivers—Inspiration, Challenge, Surprise and Love—sustain and support us. They also connect us to greater gifts like appreciating one’s life and making sure we are living the life we desire and dream. River of Inspiration Working … Read more…

Dangers of Climbing the Ladder of Inference

I appreciate students and clients who, through their questions or disagreements, invite me to rethink and reconsider what I say and espouse. This happened recently after a two-day workshop on communication and meeting skills with the staff of a governmental agency. I had reviewed the Ladder of Inference to help people learn how to give effective feedback by separating observable behavior (what they see and hear, e.g., when you interrupt me) from inferences or judgments … Read more…

Creating Brave Spaces*

Setting ground rules or conversation guidelines seems to be the sine qua non of meetings these days. Having ground rules can create a safe space for people to interact, but they can also interfere with authentic conversation because people conflate safety with comfort. Is it possible to be both safe and uncomfortable? My husband and business partner Roger James and I believe it is and that it is essential to be able to be both … Read more…

“Duh’s” and “Aha’s”*

When do your best ideas come to you? Perhaps while you are walking, showering, or having a good conversation with people you trust? Or, do they come while you are studying an issue and trying to solve it based on your past experience with solving a similar problem? When faced with a difficult issue many of us try the latter and often come to an impasse or apply an ineffective solution. This happens for two … Read more…

What Do You See?

Look around the room you are in right now. What do you see? I notice the lamp on my desk and the printer to the left of my computer. When I broaden my focus I can see the welcome rain out my window and the quickening of the green in the grass and the darkening of the asphalt in the road. What you see is shaped by the society in which you exist. In societies … Read more…

Asking Good, Big Questions

I love good, big questions. When thoughtfully asked and open-heartedly and open-mindedly received, they evoke deep reflection, deeper than the everyday queries we ask ourselves such as what to have for lunch or when to convene a meeting. My questions tend to emerge during periods of quiet reflection or when I feel a sense of disquiet in my days. They also arise from curiosity and a desire for meaningful conversation, both with others and myself. … Read more…