Guest Blog: Jessica Dickinson Goodman
Board President, San Francisco Bay Area Internet Society
At the final Impact Coach orientation, Mentor Initiatives Lead Linda Miles asked me to share advice for a few minutes on how to have culturally curious conversations and engage in team building. In an early draft of that presentation, I wrote up a list of 10 culturally curious questions and phrases I’ve used in my 12 years volunteering with this program –a script toolkit to share with other mentors. Scripts #1-#5 are designed to open a cross-cultural dialog and #6-#9 are ways to diplomatically move a conversation along if understanding is not on the table immediately. #10 is an important boundary-setting phrase that I’ve used in a wide range of environments where I am jointly responsible for establishing and protecting a professional culture.
Here is that list of culturally curious questions and phrases:
- “I’d love to learn more about that, can you recommend a place I can read more?”
- “Are there different perspectives on that issue in your community?”
- “That’s a perspective I haven’t considered before. Can you tell me how you came to it?”
- “I haven’t heard of that before – can you tell me more?”
- “I’ve read that [fact from your research about the topic]. Does that sound right to you or should I keep reading?”
- “It sounds like we’ve had different experiences.”
- “That sounds pretty different from how other people have described that situation, but thank you for sharing it with me.”
- “Looks like we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.”
- “What I have seen in my personal experience is […].”
- “We don’t talk like that here.”
One of the joys of citizen diplomacy is the chance to explore the world around us through the eyes of the women we’re supporting during their journeys in the U.S. and beyond. But one of the tensions of participating in a formal mentoring program is that we do not have infinite time to enjoy each other’s company – as Impact Coaches, we play project manager to our teams, helping them meet aggressive deadlines and engage in sometimes difficult thought work. So while I wish I could luxuriate in the expansive conversations phrases #1-#5 allow for, sometimes I need to use #6-#10 to move a conversation or a group forward towards our shared goal.
I suspect scripts #6-#9 are already in the toolbox of anyone who’s undergone conflict resolution training; I learned a number of them in the 5 years I spent as a Volunteer Clinic Escort for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania while I was in college. “I” statements and acknowledging difference and creating space for a multiplicity of worldviews are fairly basic conversational tools that I suspect most mentors in this program readily have at their disposal.
But I want to spend a moment talking about script #10. On rare occasions, a Mentor, Emerging Leader or Fellow will bring out a view or perspective that cannot be openly debated. Perhaps it involves a knowing or unknowing use of a slur; perhaps it is in front of a group; perhaps it is an abusive tone or an act of deliberate cruelty towards a vulnerable person. As leaders in this program, I believe we’re all responsible for maintaining our welcoming and supportive culture, which sometimes means setting firm boundaries. For me, saying “we don’t talk like that here” creates a clear understanding of expectations, a sense of in-group norms, and it’s short enough that no one can mistake what I mean when I say it.
As we kick off the next program, I hope we will have lots of time for scripts #1-#5 and I won’t have to deploy #10. But, for me at least, it helps to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, and knowing I have a phrase in my toolkit helps me address potentially toxic conflicts in the moment – and help my team move forward in a positive way more quickly.
We have hundreds of years worth of experience asking culturally curious questions and engaging in rich, enlightening discussions in TechWomen, so I would love to hear in the comments: what scripts do you use as a mentor, an alumna, or a friend of the program when you’re trying to have culturally curious conversations?
Bio: Jessica Dickinson Goodman bridges the worlds of technology and politics. Starting with an internship at 15 with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, continuing through her undergrad degree at Carnegie Mellon and an internship at Harvard Law School’s Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society, Jessica works to bring the best of both these worlds to what she does. In 2018, inspired by the team she mentored through the US State Department’s TechWomen program, she built up her technical skills taking Java, Python, and C++ simultaneously and was named one of Foothill College’s Top STEM students. She is Board President of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Internet Society, one of the youngest woman to be elected to run an Odd Fellows lodge in the order’s 150 year history, and on her weekends, she manages a community garden and California native plant garden in South San José.