What I Should Have Said


Have you ever been so surprised in a conversation that you either said nothing or wished you could redo your response?  It’s happened twice to me recently, with, “I will support a women’s symposium when you support a men’s symposium” and “How is your women’s project going?”.   The latter immediately following a protracted discussion at a regional meeting about how little diversity exists in our field had and how to remedy that deficit.

As children we are taught to walk away from bullies- not to give psychologic air to their intimidation and belittling techniques and that is likely a good skill to have in your repertoire.  Walking away as an adult precludes the opportunity to understand, convince or find common ground.  One of the sage principles espoused by Shirzad Chamine in his NYT bestseller Positive Intelligence is to be inquisitive.  Look for the 10% that you can agree with.  He suggests saying “What I like about that is….” and finding some small thing to agree with.

For instance, “what I like about (comment one) is the great attendance we would have!”.    A response of “Yes and tell me what that looks like” borrows from Improv techniques to keep the dialogue positive and ongoing.   However you do it, the idea is to engage and show curiosity.  In this case, we might have been able to agree that virtually all the symposia ARE men’s symposia.   At the very least, being ready to say “Tell me more” would have avoided the strained silence and awkwardness for others who overheard.

In the second case, I believe the question came from a place of support so a response of “What I like about that is that you are curious, what makes you say it is MY project?” or “Yes it is moving slowly and your support is such an important part of the overall goal” occur to me now.

The critical component of this is practice.  “Tell me more” is an almost universally positive response to any comment or question and easy to remember if you practice it.  My friends and family have gotten a rather hefty dose lately and it has led to some fantastic conversations. Using “yes” instead of “but” is also a great overall habit and opens rather than closing the door of communication.

Recognize that not every response will lead to a thoughtful and inclusive conversation.  It may be that after hearing the other, it is best to move on and spend your energy in a more fruitful environment.  A curious supportive response teaches others that you are fair and open, most importantly for those who may be watching, you have shown them how to face adversity with calm and aplomb.  Best of all, you may find great allies and common ground even if you didn’t expect it.

Written by Carla Smith
MDPhD, FAAOS (she/her) - Orthopedic Trauma Surgeon in Idaho, Board Chair Health Volunteers Overseas Washington DC, Clinical Faculty University of Washington School of Medicine, Board Member SIGN-Fracture Care International Richland WA, Admissions Committee WWAMI- Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, Certificate in Strategic Diversity Leadership ODLC/Cornell 2023.