What She Said–and How She Said It

People born toward the bottom of large sibling piles tend to be adaptable, in the sense that they instinctively fill vacant roles in any group situation. If the moment wants levity, they crack a joke. If there’s an invisible elephant in the room, they name it. If the dishes are piling up, they do the dishes. The team is stronger for having such personalities on the roster, and not incidentally, the adaptable party finds a lot of ways to feel useful.

This tendency doesn’t always prevail, but the trait frequently applies to me. I noticed this at the barn where I volunteer. I’m often focused on, “What needs to happen next to get this participant and their horse into the arena? What can we do now to be pre-ready for the lesson after that?” Maybe critical-path thinking comes from running my own law practice, or years of single-parenting, but I suspect it’s also just me. Vigilant about deploying resources effectively, sometimes to the point of missing the forest as I walk straight into a tree.

On of the instructors pulled me aside fairly early in my volunteer efforts and said words to this effect: In the vast majority of situations, initiative, forward momentum, and strategic thinking are great assets. I’m not suggesting you abandon them entirely. Here, though, where our participants have often been managed, structured, and scheduled halfway to perdition, a more relaxed approach can be useful. For us to move at their pace, according to their priorities, in the direction they choose, is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer them.”

Moses in the bulrushes, did I ever need to hear that. This woman was saying to me, “I see and appreciate that you are trying to solve the problem of how to be helpful. I agree that your approach has a lot to recommend it, but let me give you some context, and another perspective to consider.” She managed to be critical without in any way leaving me feeling diminished or reprimanded.

In fact, I was relieved. I was trying to solve the problem of how best to be useful, and she added an option: Be a kind, non-anxious presence. That’s a big contribution.

That wisdom in itself would be a lovely take-away, but I am also impressed with how deftly the guidance was provided. The same instructor could have said, “Simmer down, Grace. Pushy, twitchy people make the horses fretful,” (which is true). In the alternative, she might have said nothing, and I’d still be overstepping my role on occasion, wasting effort at other times, and harshing the lesson vibe, all while I just try to be helpful.

She couched her correction such that I felt valued, appreciated, and supported rather than shamed, and you know what helps me simmer down the very best? Feeling valued, appreciated, and supported, that’s what.

Other people have come to my aid in the same manner, offering gentle, constructive insights, about how I parented my daughter, managed my money, and dealt with my health. How they expressed themselves, and why they spoke up–kindly, and to truly assist me with a problem–was as much value as what they said.

Have you ever been the recipient of this kind of right word at the right time in the right way? It strikes me that good bosses have this skill, and a lot of clergy likely have it too. Maybe this is what Julian and Hyperia value most in each other… Must have a think on that!



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6 comments on “What She Said–and How She Said It

  1. I either haven’t experienced this or I have forgotten. I live too much in my own head and most actual human interactions don’t stay in my memory bank very long (this is intentional so that I have room for new information and can more easily access the information that is there already). The other option is that I may not have realized it when it happened as I can be pretty oblivious. But I am happy it happened for you and made you feel better. “Feeling valued, appreciated, and supported” is good for everybody. I’m not great at it but I have always tried to give even random strangers compliments if I see/hear something I like.

  2. One of my managers used “ the Oreo cookie” method to deliver constructive criticism/ advise. She’d pay you a compliment, praise what you were doing right and then let you know what needed improvement is evidence.and then end with more praise. A positive way to get the message apart.

    This past year, I have received the right word at the right time from my oncologist and chemo nurse. A lot of the talks have been about my diet, keeping a positive attitude and what to expect this week AFTER treatment. All of the advice was appreciated.

  3. Pingback: | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  4. “She managed to be critical without in any way leaving me feeling diminished or reprimanded.” I have met people who have this ability. What a skill we could all use! Sometimes I can come up with a way to do this, but most times not. Perhaps I should think longer before I open my mouth?

  5. “…And thy gentleness hath made me great.“. ‭‭2 Samuel‬ ‭22‬:‭36‬ ‭KJV‬‬

    Like King David you didn’t focus on the negative, one particular part, the fact that she may have been wearing pink or something else irrelevant to the encounter. You could hear that you were valued, appreciated, supported. That in itself is a gift, a skill, an accomplishment. I always seem to hear the “yeah, but.” (And dish it out, too.)

  6. I too have that “let’s solve the problem” urgency, which means that I occasionally overlook what someone might need emotionally. When a colleague and friend was upset because our rental car wasn’t available, she said “I can see you’re going into your problem-solving mode, but I just need to vent for a minute.” That gentle reminder has stuck with me; she needs acknowledgement and empathy FIRST in order to feel heard.