Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
April 2013

Tonglen Meditation, a Set of Experts and
Hard Conversations – A Good Combination

Over the last four months, I have been spending time each morning practicing Tonglen, compassion meditation.�Pema Chodron, author and a wise teacher of Buddhism, describes the "Tonglen practice" as a "method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us."� There are many guided meditations and readings on the practice of Tonglen meditation on the web.� Check them out.

I find the practice deeply supportive of the work I am doing in my Having Hard Conversations workshops. Participants come in to the session with their challenges and a willingness to become more humane and growth producing during their hard conversations.� They share their 'suffering' with their discussion partners and explain the context of their workplace conflict. For me to hold the container of the workshop so participants can work through their action plans and write their scripts, I want to be in a space to be as kind and supportive as possible.� The practice of Tonglen helps me be grounded and able to sit with the emotional and cognitive dissonance that shows up.

Workshop attendees and I are working on being 'growth agents' – figuring out how to be compassionate and hold people accountable.� We want what's best for those we work with and for those we serve, patients and students.� It is a balancing act.� Who are we protecting when we don't have hard conversations; the adults we have hired to do the work or the students and patients they are there to care for? How can we do both?� It isn't one or the other.� We need to manage the polarities.

I have been thinking about how much I need a cadre of experts to assist me in this work. Psychologists, doctors, speech language therapists, social workers, special education teachers, human resource professionals and attorneys.� Because with the specific hard conversations that attendees need to have, we need help sorting out the 'under the surface' parts to the story.� These experts bring knowledge, skills, a sense of calm and, often times, a more analytical perspective to the work as they deal with challenging conversations daily. �I am realizing it is wonderful to have this type of posse on hand. Be on the lookout in future newsletters for more information about having this type of 'support team' in your work life.�

These experts often come up as potential resources to seek out when, in the workshop, we get to the point of asking ourselves to look at the hard conversation from the other person's point of view.� Why might this person not be able to fulfill his/her obligations or meet performance expectations?� Is there something we are missing? What don't we see?

Specific questions often come to mind...

  • Is what I am asking of this colleague going to require mental and/or emotional strength and ability? �Are there learning challenges that this person might have? Might I need to modify or accommodate the work so the individual can be successful? What emotional bandwidth will it require of this person? Executive functioning?� Strong self-regulation? Does he or she have it?
  • What information or skills might this person need to call forth to do the tasks I am requesting of him or her?� Does he or she have the information or the skill?� Might I need to provide additional support to learn the information and/or skills?
  • What might need to be enforced, valued, acknowledged, or given permission to in terms of what the organization needs?� Might there need to be a clarification of the mission or vision of the workplace?� Might you need to restate what the beliefs are that guide the work to see if you and other person and the school/department are on the same page?
  • What does the person think the job is?� Does his/her definition of the work align with that of the workplace?� Might things have changed due to initiatives coming down the pike and we need to get 'two feet in the present' and regroup?
  • What barriers might be stopping this person?� Is he or she dealing with physical challenges, emotional upset, a family crisis?
  • What social forces or influences might need to be acknowledged?� Might the individual's country of origin, gender, race or religion be a factor in this situation? For example, does the person think 'school' or 'medical care' is to look a 'certain way' given his or her upbringing and does that idea conflict with what is expected in the current context? What feelings of stereotype threat might be alive in this situation?� How can we mitigate for that feeling?� How can we make this person feel more 'identity safe?'

Often times, we walk around with blinders on. Or maybe it is just me. I am frustrated when things aren't working and I assume that everyone can do the work in the same way as I do, has the same skill set, or sees things from my point of view.� And, many times, we don't consider the other person's learning styles, learning needs, competing commitments in one's personal life, one's filters of perception, and our lack of articulation and transparency in what we need from them. �The support team of experts can assist us in seeing our challenges from different perspectives, help when we need a professional 'take' on things, and can remind us of both the individual and/or organizational needs we might not see with our current narrow sightedness.� A little Tonglen for the 'inside work' doesn't hurt either.� Breathe in. Breathe out. Compassion for self.� Compassion for others.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cool Resources

1) Check out the information for the July 10-11 Southwest Arkansas Educational Cooperative Common Core Institute at Hempstead Hall, University of AR Community College in Hope, Arkansas. "Designed to be a learning experience, this institute will offer interactive sessions focused on efforts to lead change at a top level through classroom implementation.� Walk away with guidelines to develop school-wide implementation plans and a framework for leading change, instructional strategies and assessment techniques."

2) My colleague and friend, Sue Porter, Dean of Students at Branson School in Ross, California (Marin County) just published Bully Nation: Why America's Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone. writes, "In this timely book, Susan Eva Porter, a seasoned and licensed school professional, explains how our current bully language, school policies, and anti-bully activists are trying to address the problem of school bullying in ways that actually make problems worse."� You can read a review from Psychology Today.

3) In doing research on resilience for a new workshop, I looked at my colleague Bobbi Emel's website and blog, 'Bounce.'� Bobbi, an MFT who tweets, writes and does workshops on resilience, writes, "Bounce is about developing the ability to say yes to whatever happens in life – good, bad, or indifferent. It's about being fully present, bringing the best of who we are to every situation. And it's about being able to accept ourselves completely, warts and all."� Check out her great list entitled, "55 ways to bounce back from (just about) anything."

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

April 22�����������������������
Personal Leadership Resources: A Closer Look
Emotional Intelligence/Resilience/Optimism
Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada

April 23
Creating Identity Safe Schools and Classrooms������������������������������������������������������������������
Regional Equity and Inclusion Education Symposium
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada����������������������������������������

April 25
Having Hard Conversations
Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula
Monterey, CA

April 26
Building Relationships:� Communication Basics
Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula
Monterey, CA

May 10-11
Having Hard Conversations
Hawaii Department of Education
Honolulu, Hawaii

For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


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© 2013 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699