Life is clearer when there’s a process. I’ve had two a-ha moments in the recent past that helped me to create general responses to two very different situations. In one, I’m asking someone if they need my help and the other, well, I’m offering my apologies. The similar component in these two situations is the feeling of vulnerability – in one party or the other. And, generally when there’s vulnerability, is often accompanied by judgement, blame, etc…feelings that influence our behaviors so that we have a high chance of saying what we don’t really mean. So with these two general responses I’m able to remember what I value and respond as such.
For the time you’re with someone who’s having a rough go of it
I must admit, this piece of advice comes from Michael Keeler, Business Wizard of MFF. He was recalling a potential client who was slightly resistant of joining the gym. So he asked this question:
“How can I best serve you right now?”
(Potentially paraphrased, but the intention is correct.)
At the time I was sitting in a weekend seminar at Mark Fisher Fitness in NYC and thought his question was clever, and marked it for later review. Then, along with a ton of other great information it was pushed to the back of my mind when I returned to work. Slowly things come back and it was last week when this seed fucking germinated.
I was teaching a bootcamp class and a client had a recurring knee issue pop up. She was trying to get off of the ground and I was standing beside her trying to find the right words and stable arm support when,
“What’s the best way for me to help you?”
CAME OUT OF MY MOUTH.
Now, it might not seem as though that’s something so profound…initially. It might even sound obvious. Well, it’s obvious until you remember that you’re always looking for the solution. And, a decent amount of the time we’re looking for a solution to someone else’s problem.
The problem with that is we don’t know what someone needs unless we ask them.
It happened again later with Adam. He was working on scheduling a flight and my initial reaction was to tell him what I thought. [NO. STOP IT. NO.] Instead, I asked him, “What’s the best way I can help?”. And, the most spectacular part? He told me.
You see this question is so simple that it is pushed aside. Oftentimes it’s pushed aside when we think we know the answer to someone else’s problem. What we need to concern ourselves with is what this person wants; the best way to help is to ask how to help.
It’s possible, yes, that the person doesn’t want any of your help. And, you should respect that — unless your friend is packing, moving, or preparing for a large party when cooking is needed for > 13 people. Simply GSD in these situations. Otherwise, trust them. They’re working it out on their own and our added opinions aren’t needed. It’s also quite possible that your friend doesn’t know what she needs. That then opens the door to talk about the situation and go from there.
For the time you’ve f’ed up
This summer I’ve been riding my bike more. I live in Philadelphia, so bike riding is inherently dangerous with cars, other bikers and pedestrians. There’s a construction zone on my way to the gym where the bike lane (and sidewalk) is blocked off. The city decided to create a zone separate from the cars with a barrier and it’s not clear whether this zone is for bikers or pedestrians (neither or both!) since both the sidewalk and the bike lane are blocked. Well, one day I decided to use this lane on my bike.
As I was coming through, there was a man with a tiny dog (I kid you not, it was the smallest dog) who yelled at me, “This isn’t a bike lane.”. Look, I’m pretty big on following laws and being a decent human being so I don’t ride my bike on the sidewalk, I don’t take up the whole road as a biker, and always make sure I’m going the right way down the street. So I felt a little shaken up by this man’s tone. But, he doesn’t know me. (I could really dissect his action and tone, but I’m not going to — I’m not in his head and I’ll never be there, so I’ll stick with what I know, what actions I took, and how I handled myself without judgement.)
Initially I was startled. There’s a sign that says “Sidewalk Closed, Bike Lane Closed” so I mostly thought this space was fair game. Clearly, he didn’t. And, I did have a feeling it was more for walking than riding regardless of it’s marking.
But then, and I’m not sure where this came from, I responded with,
“I won’t do it next time.”
I mean, I did almost run him and his dog over.
Isn’t that all we can do? To make amends — say you’re sorry (if called for) and that you learned from the situation?
My one-two for this:
- Make sure an apology is needed.
- Apologize with “I’m sorry” + (<– and, this is a big plus) “I’ll do better next time.” You know my rule: only say it if you mean it.
I do get that there are many types of situations. And, that it might take more than a passing comment to show your remorse. We could talk for awhile about whether this particular situation merited an apology or at least recognition of poor/unsafe actions, but I don’t want to do that because that would be missing my point. Generally women apologize too much, it’s true. However, we’re not immune to lapses in judgement and do make mistakes. There are appropriate moments when an apology is needed and when those moments happen, well, you read my MO.
I’ll admit, this bike-dog-lane moment is so small and the only reason it’s significant is because it’s the first moment in my life that I saw a clear method on how to apologize. It’s quite ridiculous, isn’t it? That being so removed from someone can yield such a powerful reflection on an important skill. But, it happened and I’m better for it. I also think it’s more challenging to objectively analyze our actions and reactions when there are emotions involved (read: dealing with loved ones).
While both of these responses — “What’s the best way for me to help you?” and “I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time.” are prepared, that doesn’t mean they’re less genuine when I choose to use them. When I’m unprepared I fumble my words, create an environment of insecurity in myself and others, and oftentimes have a case of foot-in-mouth disease. So, I’m changing that. These are systems I’m putting into place so when I’m interacting with others I’m doing so intentionally and with authenticity.