What a delight to have interviews with communications clarifier Judy Ringer and graphic novelist Malaka Gharib. While their books are totally different, I’ll bet you find commonalities in their advice.
Clarity of Purpose
Is conflict in the workplace inevitable? Possibly. It happens almost everywhere. When strife interferes with work, with projects, with personal relations and productivity, one of the best places to get help is in Judy Ringer’s Turning Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace.
Ringer takes her clients through conflict resolution and applies the principles of Aikido to problem solving in the workplace. In a section called “Possible Openings” she suggests that a trouble-shooter say, “I’d like to talk about ______ with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view” or “I think we have different perceptions about _______. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.” In other words she invites the other person into the discussion. She doesn’t demand participation or make judgments, principles she learned from her ongoing Aikido practice.
This book is a combination of self-help and how to. The best way to get a feel for what it offers is to read her responses to the questions below:
BLG: Tell us how your career turned you into a non-fiction author?
JR: I first began to think of myself as a “writer” in 2006, when I self-published Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict. And that’s interesting since all my careers involved writing to some degree.
In the 1980’s, when I sold real estate, I wrote a one-page hard copy newsletter called “Judy’s Journal”. I used it to let people know who I was and what I did–and to help them remember my name when they were ready to sell their house.
For the past 25 years, as the owner of Power & Presence Training, I’ve offered workshops and individual coaching on conflict and communication skills. I knew the “newsletter” worked for me in real estate, so I created one that reinforced the conflict skills I was teaching. I wrote a hard copy newsletter, then online posts, and currently post twice a month.
Both my books–Unlikely Teachers and Turn Enemies Into Allies–began as articles in my newsletter or posts on my blog, Ki Moments.
BLG: In the book you talk about blending energy, and you are also blending aikido and conflict resolution. How did you discover the power of your techniques?
JR: I found aikido through inquiries and education around conflict. My default conflict tool is accommodation. I like to make people happy, which is fine, and… I wanted to have more tools, including how to express a different opinion.
In 1984, I found aikido and my mentor in this work, Thomas Crum. Many before me, like Tom, have employed the aikido metaphor to live a more harmonious and powerful life. The more I practiced blending (being curious, asking questions, listening) and redirecting (expressing my thoughts), the easier it became to turn a conflict into a learning and problem-solving opportunity, which is what Turn Enemies Into Allies is about. So I discovered the power of these techniques by practicing them.
BLG: When you work with clients, how are you different from a therapist?
JR: I teach behavior skills through centering and emotional intelligence activities that help clients manage their emotional energy under pressure. I also teach how to develop curiosity as a mindset and how to focus on purpose when holding a conversation. In my experience, therapists help people understand their emotions and where they originate. In this sense, a client may also have a therapist for the deeper work they provide.
BLG: What is the biggest conflict you faced while writing, publishing or marketing this book? How did the principles in the book help you resolve it?
JR: Before I began to look for a publisher I asked some friends and “gentle readers” to offer feedback on my draft. Some were HR professionals, others in very different walks of life. Some readers were not so gentle, and I received occasional rough feedback. An important principle in Turn Enemies Into Allies is non-judgment. So I reminded myself that I’d asked for feedback. Regardless of the form it came in, if I were to have the most useful book possible, it would help to be non-judgmental and see if the comments might help.
Another relevant principle is clarity of purpose. It took five years to write the book because of my other work. It wasn’t always easy to come back to writing after time had passed, and it helped to remember why I was doing this—my purpose.
BLG: How did you find Career Press and how have they helped you?
JR: They really found me, and it’s a lovely story. I self-published Unlikely Teachers, and really wanted to find a publisher for Turn Enemies Into Allies, because I knew how much work it took to go it alone. Nonetheless, after five or six rejections I was about to start looking for a designer when I received an email from Career Press asking if I’d consider writing a book for them on conflict in the workplace!
They’d been reading my blog and articles on conflict and communication. I made sure the email was “real,” then wrote back that I’d just finished a book and would they like to take a look. The rest is history.
They have been wonderful partners, and I can’t say enough good things about them. My publicist, Eryn Carter Eaton secured six podcasts for me the first two months after the book’s release, plus articles on websites like TrainingIndustry.com. They also created a fabulous book page on Amazon and other online book sites. Everyone there has been incredibly responsive and helpful.
BLG: What a wonderful story! Who is this book for in addition to those in the workplace? How are you locating them and marketing this book?
JR: Early readers and reviewers are saying the book offers tools for conflict at home as well as at the office. Entrepreneurs deal with conflict as well, and the book has gained traction for leaders, managers, HR professionals, and supervisors.
Besides the help I’ve received from Career Press, I use social media sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I also market through my blog and my workshops.
BLG: What else would you like the readers of this interview to know?
JR: I’d like them to know that with practice and positive intention, anyone can increase their ability to transform conflict into powerful learning conversations and healthier relationships–with themselves and others.
And in terms of getting your book out into the world, it helps to know why you’re writing it. What’s the purpose of the book? Who would be served by its message? It also helps that I enjoy the process of writing. I turn my inner critic off when I’m writing.
BLG: What are you working on now and how can people learn more about your writing and practices?
JR: Turn Enemies Into Allies just came out, and I have my hands full supporting its growth while keeping up with full time client work. There are no new books in the offing just yet.
That said, my website (judyringer.com) is a teaching site. People can read for hours on my blog, since I write twice a month and there’s always something new. There are also longer articles under “Resources”. And each page of the site has something to offer the visitor in need of support around conflict, communication, and centered presence.
BLG: Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. You are a wonderful communicator and it was a pleasure to help you share this book with the world.
Turn Enemies Into Allies is a great source. If you have conflict in your life, and who doesn’t, pick up a copy today!
As If You Were Writing a Diary
An interview with Malaka Gharib by B. Lynn Goodwin
Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream is not a story just anyone could have told. She is the child of immigrants: a Catholic Filipino mother and a Muslim Egyptian father. She has an unusual background, supported by lots of love from her extended family, and tells her story in a colorful graphic novel.
As I read, I loved her specificity, her uniqueness, and her openness to the whole concept of blended ethnicity and self-discovery. I am a fellow Californian, and I’m fascinated by the concept of a graphic memoir as well as the experiences that make her unusual story one of many in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Interested in graphic novels? Have a story of your own to tell? Discover Malaka Gharib’s in the interview below.
BLG: Tell us about your background in writing and art. In the midst of all your
other work, what made you decide to tell this story?
MG: I’ve always used writing and art to sort out my feelings and emotions. I particularly like writing creative nonfiction, essays and short stories. I like creating and editing my own self-published zines and comics. I had my own food magazine in the early 2010s called The Runcible Spoon.
And I make lots of tiny books that tell short stories from my life: the moment I knew I liked the boy who would eventually become my college boyfriend; an American pop song I taught my Egyptian stepmother during one particularly boring summer in Sharm El Sheikh; the toy I chose when my rich uncle took me to Toys ‘R’ Us.
I started drawing cartoons telling little stories about my parents in 2016, after hearing of all the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the news. It just didn’t match what it was like growing up with them, and growing up in mostly immigrant community in the U.S. In the meantime, I realized I was sorting out my own feelings about race and identity, too.
BLG: Did you invent the graphic memoir? If not, what are some other memoirs told this way? If so, how did you come up with the idea?
MG: Certainly not — graphic memoirs have been around for a long time. Some of my favorite are Maus by Art Spiegelman (which won a Pulitzer Prize), The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, In Waves by AJ Dungo and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
BLG: How was drawing these illustrations different from drawing cartoons? Or was it?
MG: The illustrations I used in the cartoon panels in the book must work in tandem with the words and dialogue surrounding it. Each element should support each other, like poetry. If I want to convey that I felt sorry for my dad because he lived alone, which I can explicitly say in the text, the images should tell a different vein of the story. I drew images of him eating alone in a bare apartment, or trying to be cheerful when we were spending time together.
BLG: It’s obvious what makes your story unique. What do you hope readers will
discover about your immigration and family life?
MG: That there is a side to immigrants and their children that you may not know because it is difficult and awkward to talk about race. And for immigrant children — your life story is beautiful and is not weird or strange!
BLG: The book covers a large portion of your life. How did you decide what to
include and what to exclude?
MG: Comics and zines are often short-form and I love the restriction of that. What is the maximum story you can tell in just a few pages? I liked that the book could only be 160 pages, so basically approached the book as a collection of eight short zines that told the story of my relationship with my family and my identity in each part of my life, from childhood to adulthood.
It also helped that I kept journals for most of my life. I used them to make the memories and anecdotes from my childhood razor sharp. If you look through the book, there are lots of references to what it was like being a child in the late 90s and a teen in the early 2000s: American Girl dolls and Teen Beat posters of Ryan Philippe, for example.
I also used my training as a journalist to keep the story tight and focused. For that reason, it was pretty easy for me to “kill my darlings” as they say in writing. And I was pretty ruthless about it. If it didn’t add to the story or I’d already mentioned some version of it before: boi, bye!
BLG: You write with great emotional honesty. Any tips for doing that?
MG: Write for yourself, as if you were writing in a diary. Don’t do it for anyone else.
BLG: What’s the best advice you ever got from an editor?
MG: One of my editors, Kat Chow, reminded me that I can’t cover every race and identity under the sun. I should pick a few and dive in to those and explore them to the best of my ability. It helped me focus.
BLG: What is the key to making a coming-of-age story work?
MG: If the writer isn’t discovering anything, neither will the reader. I approached this book with absolutely no idea how it would end. It really was a journey for me. I had no idea how much I thought about race and identity, I didn’t know how much rage I had about the matter, I didn’t know how much I loved my heritage, I didn’t know what place my culture had in my life, until I wrote the book.
BLG: Those are important discoveries! What are you working on now?
MG: I am spending a lot of time drawing and writing for myself. I post a lot of the things that I make on my Instagram, http://instagram.com/malakagharib.
I want to thank both of these ladies for wonderful interviews. Please share them with your friends.