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Mindful : April 2018
the potential to erupt into an emotional battle, but knowing beforehand that you’re going to be talking about something difficult may help you to be more aware and insightful about the issues and the interaction. Here are some tools, rules, and reflections to help you plan for a more mindful discussion. Preparation Spend time beforehand with your thoughts and emotions. Your ongoing mindfulness prac- tice helps prepare you for difficult conversations. Your practice or discipline may be mindfulness meditation, another body/mind discipline, or it can be taking walks with yourself, while not- ing the thoughts and emotions that arise. The more regularly you learn to be with yourself and explore your thoughts and feelings, the more likely you will be able to access mindful aware- ness in the midst of a difficult conversation. Plan your arg ument but know that nothing goes according to plan. Having this awareness means that you don’t have to go sideways when the situation does! As Victor Hugo put it in Les Misérables: “Noth- ing is more imminent than the impossible...what we must always foresee is the unforeseen.” Consider the time and the space in which your discussion will take place. When: If you or the person you’re talking to gets particularly cranky just before lunch, try not to schedule a difficult conversation at that time. If you know that the person you’re meeting with loves a walk in the early morning, that may be the perfect time for a difficult conversation. (However, if walking alone is the key to their enjoyment, pick another time!) Where: Sometimes you can’t influence the location where you’ll be meeting, as, for exam- ple, if your performance review is in your boss’s office. But you may be able to choose your chair, or angle it differently, move it closer or farther away from the other person. These little things can affect how the conversation goes. Mindful- ness can help you to be aware of your environ- ment and slow down enough to see the details. → Disagreements are a part of life. In fact, that’s a real understatement. Can you think of a day that didn’t include some conflict or arg u- ment, big or small? Can you think of a person you’ve known for more than a few years with whom you haven’t disagreed? I want to explore mindful arguing here, but not how to never have another arg ument or disagreement. That would be, frankly, impossible. There are myriad terms to describe arguments and the intense emotions they may inspire: bickering, feuding, fighting like cats and dogs, fur or sparks flying, going mano a mano, settling a score, hammering away at someone, dueling, being on a collision course, wrangling, and slugging it out are a few colorful expressions. It doesn’t appear that any of these are particularly about mindful arguing, but they are certainly descriptive of argumentative inter- actions. Most of these terms describe emotional arguments that erupt unexpectedly. Planned arguments are generally less fraught with emo- tion, although they, too, can become very heated and intense. Here, we’ll look at both forms of conflict, the planned and the spontaneous, and how mindful awareness and practices can influence both. The Planned Argument The word “argument” often refers to a con- flict or disagreement, but in its original Latin meaning, it was about making something clear or proving something. “A statement or fact advanced for the purpose of influencing the mind,” is one definition, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Indeed, we often formulate arguments in our own minds as we prepare for challenging conversations. Discussions at work about a raise or a promotion, job performance reviews, talking with your parents or your children about money, arguing about where the kids are going to live after the divorce, talking with your partner about whether to accept a job in a remote location, or getting ready to advo- cate for a school lunch program at the upcoming school board meeting—all these are examples of arguments that we can anticipate and plan for. Any conversation we prepare for also has ABOUT THE AUTHOR Carolyn Gimian has been writing, editing, and teaching seminars about fear and fearlessness for the last 20 years. Her work was included in the anthology In the Face of Fear. She teaches seminars on the topic of “Smile at Fear,” including several she co-taught with Pema Chödrön. 72 mindful April 2018 get real