Resolution 4: Have 12 conversations
(just not at one time).

Just as your wardrobe reveals much about you, so can the way you talk to your boss, your coworkers, and your employees. It can also affect whether you come into the office with dread or joy in your heart, writes Shawn Kent Hayashi G’94 in Conversations for Change: 12 Ways to Say it Right When It Matters Most.

Good communication starts from within, she adds. “With self-awareness, we can change our inner conversations about what we are feeling and create different outcomes in conversations with others.”

Hayashi presents 12 kinds of conversations that we should all learn to have, from a Conversation for Accountability to a Conversation for Breakdown. If one of these dialogues is missing from your toolkit, it could be holding you back, she argues.

A Conversation for Connection, for example, can help you fit into your workplace, create new relationships, inspire change, and earn the loyalty of your team. To start one, Hayashi urges readers to focus on the current moment, use sustained eye contact, and listen closely to their conversation partner.

She gives the example of Jean and Bob, two bank supervisors whose departments weren’t getting along until Jean asked Bob to meet for coffee. As she listened to his concerns, Jean gained insights into Bob’s motivations and communication style; she also learned that he liked to make decisions slowly. Then, after Jean shared her views, she suggested that they take some time to think about the issue. When the two, better-acquainted supervisors got back together, both were eager to reach a solution.

Hayashi’s Conversation for Creating New Possibilities begins with brainstorming. She challenges the reader to think of “100 opportunities, things, experiences, conversations, companies you’d like to work with, or assignments you want.” If you can’t think of that many, she writes, you “may be creating your own glass ceiling, limiting what you believe is possible for you.” In this case, a trusted supervisor or coworker can ask questions to help you uncover new ideas.

Hayashi works through each of these conversation types in straightforward, earnest prose, offering examples of dialogue that at times seem a bit wooden. For example, one suggested conversation starter for Conflict Resolution is: “I have a commitment to focus on the desired behavior and outcomes we’d like to create rather than focus on what we don’t want. Will you join me in this?”

What Hayashi’s conversations may lack in natural flow, they sometimes make up for in moxie. Using a Conversation for Action, one manager dealt with an employee who always smelled of body odor after playing tennis during his lunch break. She presented a bottle of deodorant and asked, point blank, if there was any medical reason that he couldn’t use it. There wasn’t. Things starting smelling better after that.

Resolution 5: Eat good food with funny names.

To know your colleagues may require a few conversations. To truly learn about where your food comes from takes some digging—in the dirt—as writer Melanie Rehak C’93 finds out in Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid.

Rehak had always loved to cook, and after reading books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, she was determined to develop more sustainable eating habits. But it was hard to know how to put them into practice for herself and her family. Rehak found herself weighing one priority against another: Better to be organic? Or grass-fed? Harvested sustainably or close to market? Complicating matters was Jules, her picky one-year-old. Forget about free-range chicken; he scorned even pasta and toast.

That’s how Rehak ends up working at applewood, a small Brooklyn restaurant devoted to local farming, and visiting the farmers, cheese makers, and fishermen who stocked its kitchen. She crawls through the dirt to pick potatoes, butchers goats, and takes a stomach-tossing ride on a fishing boat. “If I was really going to learn about food, if I was going to understand the choices and compromises for myself and be able to make them with confidence, I wanted to learn about it from, quite literally, the ground up,” Rehak writes.

This is no Kitchen Confidential. Unlike the cocky, cursing chefs who populate Anthony Bourdain’s memoir about the restaurant industry, applewood’s staff is civil, and unbelievably patient with the panicked novice in their midst.

This doesn’t mean that Rehak’s education is entirely pain-free. At one point, overwhelmed by sizzling frying pans, boiling pots, and “a huge line-up of fish on the counter waiting to be cooked,” she asks applewood’s co-owner, David Shea, if the halibut should come off the stove yet. “‘What do you think?’ he asked calmly, as though we were not surrounded by fire and sweat and there were no hungry people on the other side of the glass-paned door. ‘I don’t know!’ I shrieked. ‘I’m a writer!’” Then Rehak singes the hair on her arm reaching for the back burner.

Finger-wagging is another ingredient absent from this book. Despite their commitment to serving locally grown food, the restaurant’s owners are pragmatists. That is why salad greens from Florida turn up on applewood’s winter menu; otherwise, David explains, there would be nothing to serve but rutabagas. Even the restaurant’s conscientious suppliers admit to dining on fast food occasionally. (Much to Rehak’s relief, it also turns out that the kids of organic farmers have to be bribed to eat their vegetables sometimes.)

If the people in Rehak’s book are relatively mild-mannered, the food comes across a bit feistier. We are introduced to cheese that smells like body odor, goats that pee on their beards as an aphrodisiac, and a squash called “Thelma Sanders, which sounded more like the name of a third-grade teacher than a squash to me.”

Rehak’s colorful descriptions alone are reason enough to protect our food supply, showing off its quirky diversity. She even manages, between bouts of vomiting on that fishing boat 50 miles from shore, to observe the day’s catch in detail: “The monkfish’s huge head, as wide as the whole fish was long, was all mouth. Its interior, used to catch and hold prey as big as the fish itself, was clean and fresh looking and arched at the top like a miniature cathedral ceiling.”

While cooking burns and seasickness add authenticity to her culinary odyssey, Rehak concludes early on in her book that balance is the answer to many of the questions she began with:

After you’ve been digging in a potato field and eaten eggs from the hen house next to the farmhouse you’re sitting in, food seems, if only temporarily, very simple; so does supporting people who grow it carefully. And supporting them didn’t mean I had to forego the occasional bag of non-local carrots, which I bought when I had to because carrots were one of the few things Jules would eat. It meant making the right choice as often as possible and accepting that that was all any of us could do.

The right choice as often as possible. As New Year’s resolutions go, this might just be one that many of us can keep.

Freelance writer and former Gazette associate editor Susan Frith last wrote the Sept|Oct cover story on writer-mom and autism activist Susan Senator C’84 G’85.


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FEATURE: A Shelf Full of Resolutions by Susan Frith
Illustrations by Jay Bevenour
©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette

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