You know that one person who always makes you feel at ease? You can relax in their company like sitting in a big overstuffed chair. Conversation with them is like a warm cup of cocoa (or coffee, or tea, or whatever soothes your soul). You may not always agree on things, but they never make you feel stupid or inferior. They encourage you by pointing out your strengths and are gentle in discussing areas that need growth.
I want to be that person.
I don’t mean that I want to be that person for you in this blog, which would be fine, but I want to be that person all the time in all of my relationships. It’s a goal. I work at it. I don’t always succeed, but I am trying.
The world is too full of relationships that are tense and ways of relating that bring about conflict. People throw spears at each other in their conversations whether they are talking about parenting, politics, religion, and a myriad of topics that never were controversial but seem so vital to be right about now. Things like what to eat, how to shop, what to wear, and so much more. How did we loose the art of conversation and begin to practice non-stop verbal warfare?
Some blame the internet for faceless interactions. Some blame smart phones for too much screen time and no eye contact. Some blame the advent of television when kids stopped playing outside and started watching Looney Tunes…
I am not sure we can pinpoint a source. I think it’s enough to want to change. We need to call a cease-fire.
This is some of what I have learned in my journey toward being a refreshing person. It isn’t a complete guide, but it’s a start.
1. It isn’t enough to hear, we need to listen. Everyone knows this. It isn’t new. The problem is that we are often triggered by key words and phrases that plop people into pre-fabricated caricatures instead of allowing them to be their complex selves with complex and sometimes surprising thoughts. Pay attention to your trigger phrases and stop. Don’t respond to the imagined person in your head. Instead ask a question about what that person thinks about that trigger phrase. Let people define themselves.
2. Let there be silence. This can be a tough one, too. We are uncomfortable with silence. It makes us feel like something is missing or that someone is holding back. But silence can be comforting. No pressure to talk or be brilliant, just space to be.
3. Stop before you give advice and try to fix. This is so hard for me. I am a thinker, problem-solver, and often can think of three different possible solutions to the predicament the person in front of me has just described. Unfortunately, they may not want to hear my solutions. In fact, they may have already come to the same conclusions. Having the answers and actually solving the problem are two different things. Besides, unless the other person asks, it is better to let her find the answer on her own.
4. Accept them where they are. I don’t know about you, but I have learned a few things over the years. We are all dynamic creatures, learning and growing and changing as we gain experience. Chances are the people in your life will also learn things given enough time. Sometimes letting those we care about find their own way will bring them around to our way of thinking in ways that arguing will not.
5. Feed people. We are all hungry for something. Sometimes actual food helps, but sometimes what is more important is finding that hungry place in his soul. Find out what excites and energizes your friends. Find ways to encourage their passions. Be excited with them. Someone much more brilliant than I said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”
6. Share your heart. Be willing to open up and be vulnerable. This is so HARD! It is much easier to hide behind impassioned rhetoric than it is to talk about why you feel, or think, or believe a certain way. The thing is that vulnerability on our part allows vulnerability on the part of the person we are talking with. I am convinced that if we were all willing to lay down our defenses, we would find that we stand on more common ground than we know.
I sincerely hope, friends, that you have a refreshing person in your life. And I hope that you will join me in seeking to be a refreshing person for those around you.