Tag Archives: Conflict Skills

Who are you?

Last week Lillian Brummet for interviewed me for her Conscious Discussions radio show.  The topic of our conversation was Overcoming Conflict and Challenges, and I thus got the opportunity to talk about all my books including Thriving Through Tough Times: Eight Cross-Cultural Strategies to Navigate Life’s Ordeals.

Lillian was a knowledgeable interviewer and has a trick of calling for more authenticity from her guests; she began with a seemingly simple question, “Deidre, who are you?”

Paraphrasing Lillian, she asked, “When you meet the eyes of that lady in the mirror – who is “Deidre” really? Share information about who you are as a person – outside of what you do or the job or the training you have …”

Hungry birdChallenging questions send my brain searching for analogies. With this query I landed on one found in the Hindu Upanishads. Each person can be compared to two golden birds sitting on a single branch. One bird eats the fruits from the tree or engages in life. The other, what some would call the Self, just watches.

So who is Deidre? Which bird?

I could tell Lillian pretty easily about the hungry bird and shared some of “my” preferences, personality quirks and passions. The hungry bird gets bouncy around new ideas, loves to ski, speak Spanish and backpack and also has a habit of saying “yes” a bit too often.

But what of the other bird?  I was flummoxed on how to introduce her. I can forget the watching bird exists, but she is as critical as the Deidre that shows up in the world.

From a leadership perspective, our watching birds provide us the wider view.  They are the ones who notice that “we” are angry, depressed, or making a mistake. Leadership guru Ronald Heifetz describes the watching birds as the critical ability to get on the balcony and observe while our hungry birds are dancing around the floor.

Spiritual traditions have long advised that we connect often to our watching birds. Both the ancient traditions and modern leadership theory suggest that we should cultivate this relationship daily. If we can stop to clear away thoughts and just watch quietly, we can foster a better understanding of this witness self.  I don’t think I can explain who she is; sorry Lillian! However, sitting quietly reminds me to listen to my watching bird’s observations and strengthens my ability to step back from stressful situations, notice what is occurring and pause before I respond.

And, so I pose to you Lillian’s simple question, “Who are you?”

TEDxBozeman Video is Available

Per your many requests, please find my March 23rd Tedx Talk below! It is also available on YouTube under the Tedx Channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAzWD3038Y .

Thank you for your kind and enduring support, Deidre

Open to magic

I’m sitting in the JFK airport with a 5 hour layover, waiting for a flight to Madrid. You wouldn’t find me complaining if you sat down next to me. I have been waiting expectantly for this opportunity for almost a year. I plan to meet my middle son there and trek across northern Spain for over two weeks. I feel so darn lucky to have made it to this spot.

The wait has given me time to contemplate my expectations for this very anticipated journey. I am tickled to see my son again after 8 months. I am giggly about getting to be outdoors non-stop, and yet I know that my excitement is full of attachment to specific outcomes.

We can plan, we can anticipate, but when the time comes for a big event — be it a trip, a board meeting or a company merger — being open to the outcome is the prescribed cross-cultural tenet. From Hinduism comes the advice to be focused on what you are doing, not the fruits you are trying to derive. Harrison Owen, founder of Open Space Technology and researcher on detachment proposes that, “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.”

Example of the day — I somehow got upgraded to first class on the way here. Talk about attachment to the outcome!! I visualized great food, comfy chair and lots of space to spread out. I did get all those, but also I received the interesting surprise that the flight attendant radiated a not very pleasant odor. I think it was moldy shoes…or it reminded me of the smell that came when a gaggle of teenaged soccer players would remove their cleats in the mini van during days gone by. Regardless, it helped to breathe in and out of my mouth whenever the server would drop by.

The practice of detachment calls us to be open to whatever comes and watch for the mysterious unfolding of life just as it is, not how we might have visualized it.  This is the differentiator between joy and suffering in my life.  I like to remember Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s advice when life is coming at us unexpectedly. When what arrives is fun and interesting (that upgrade) she recommends we repeat to ourselves, “Pleasant.” And if it is uncomfortable or bothersome (overwhelming smell), we can say instead, “Unpleasant.” With this approach we remember to stay with the game and not miss the next act as we cling to the good or recoil from the bad.

And they don’t call it a “practice” for nothing…it’s something I continue to work on and forget more than I’d like! Yet, when I do remember, or are reminded by wise souls who stay calm and happy regardless of what pleasant or unpleasant surprises arrive at their door, detachment is like a reset button.

As we started our descent, the flight attendant went from seat to seat kindly thanking each customer for the opportunity to serve. When he came to my seatmate and me, both female, he took our hands and kissed them. “Very dear” I thought and wondered what other surprises await.

Check out lifebyme.com

A few months ago, I was asked to write an essay for www.lifebyme.com and today it is being featured on their home page! I hope you check out “Paradox” and find it of interest.

As always, thank you for your support. Today, I get to practice being seen…

Night Trekking in Dayton

I experienced an urban “food desert” first hand last week.  As I wrote in my earlier post, this term describes locations where it is difficult to find healthy sustenance. In rural America, “food deserts” arise where it is not financially viable to have a grocery store. In inner cities, these locations appear where it doesn’t seem safe to set up shop.

Instead of wandering out into the sands of the Sahara, I walked out the front door of the Dayton, Ohio Crowne Plaza around 9:30 pm in search of toothpaste. The young woman at the front desk said it would be easy to find, just walk down a block or two to the BP gas station.  Relying on the encouragement of the smiling receptionist, I went out into a harsh ecosystem for this Montana dweller.

My upbringing in downtown Minneapolis should have alerted me quicker, but I was out of my native environment. All concrete and stoplights, there were no evening diners passing by – within a block I realized I was in a tough part of town.  I was kicking myself for a momentarily lack of street smarts when a young heavy set woman in a blue scrub shirt and black pants walked up to me and asked if I needed help. I explained my toothpaste dilemma and she said she was going that way and would walk with me.

Why did I go with her? To prepare for a conference on dialogue and neuroscience I was attending in Dayton, I had been avidly reading about how the brain parses information. Reviewing what I learned, I suspect I followed her was because she appeared unthreatening and felt like an appropriate ally; she appeared authentically kind, she was Caucasian and carried no bag. She, I found out quickly, knew the streets of Dayton. She was big and thus her heft and height somehow made me feel safer.  I could have read the auditory and visual signals wrong — “Don’t try this at home,” should be subtitle to this word painting —  thankfully, I didn’t.

We were on a busy street, yet, throughout our walk, we were clearly the only white folks in the area. Did that make it more dangerous? Debatable. Yet, brain research describes how our senses heighten whenever we encounter difference from our usual setting. Thus, my fight/flight reflex with in full swing by the time I made it to the BP as, “Toto, we surely weren’t in homogeneous Bozeman, Montana anymore.”

Again, the gas station was a busy place with a young woman and her four friends trying to put air in a tire and a few drivers getting gas. The station’s front doors were locked and everyone had to request items through a glass teller window from an elderly Asian man. What would have been buck-fifty tube of toothpaste at Target was $2.99.

If you were hungry, this is looked to be your only option in this neighborhood. Without a car, there were chips and pop for dinner shoved through a teller window.  Walking back with my volunteer bodyguard I learned that she was homeless and that she often slept in a tiny room at a friend’s house. She had lost her fiancé a few blocks before she met me — he and a friend had taken off when she was in the bathroom.  My twenty-something friend was also pregnant and had earlier been raped and robbed on these same streets.  I struggled to take in all that news not only because of its potential personal safety implications, but also, because here she still was walking up and down those corridors.

As my tour guide, she pointed out what looked to be a quick drug deal in the middle of the street, some heavily pierced once-friends (“We don’t hang out with them anymore. They are so immature”) and, eventually, her fiancé and his buddy. Before leaving her to duck back into indoor safety, I slipped $10 for something to eat. Recounting her history, she explained that she was hungry and had missed the meal at the local church.  True or not, she had provided safe passage and I wanted to give her something in return. I told her fiancé to make sure she ate soon, but now wonder, where that might have been possible in that strange, dark world outside my hotel window.