Just Say It

478While I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I wandered into a clothing store and had just begun to look through the racks when my cell phone rang.  Not wanting to be rude, I stepped just outside to take the call, standing with my back to the store.  As I was talking, I heard a loud click behind me, but I didn’t realize what it meant until I finished the call and tried to go back inside.  The door was now locked.  I could see the clerk through the glass door, doing her best to look busy over by the register and deliberately not looking in my direction.  I was only on the phone for a minute, but apparently that was all the time she needed to and lock me out.

Fuming, I checked the hours posted next to the door, and realized that the store was scheduled to close in ten minutes.  I’m guessing the clerk was afraid I was going to take an armful of clothes into the dressing room and force her to stay open while I tried them on, which is why she grabbed the chance to lock me out.  But it would have been so much better if she had just told me the store would be closing soon when I first walked in.  That, I would have understood.  And I wouldn’t have been standing on the sidewalk in front of her store, thinking distinctly unkind thoughts about sneaky little sales clerks, and vowing never to shop there again.

Believe me, I struggle with speaking up just as much as everyone else, particularly when I’m not sure how what I have to say is going to be received.  I have wimped out and kept my mouth shut more times than I can count.  But in almost every case where I’ve done that, I’ve ended up being sorry in the end.  Either my silence has led to an awkward misunderstanding, or I have ended up feeling rather bitter and angry because someone else doesn’t understand what I haven’t bothered to tell them.  But when I find the nerve to say the stuff that’s hard to say, I’m at least opening the door for a chance at real communication and understanding.

It helps to remember how much I appreciate it when someone is brave enough to speak up to me.  The other night, my husband and I were driving home from dinner at our favorite restaurant when the manager called.  He wanted to know if everything was alright with our meal, or if our waiter (who was new) had done anything to offend us.  My husband assured him that everything was great, and asked why he wanted to know.  It turns out, we had accidentally left the waiter a one-dollar tip.  We were so glad that the manager knew us well enough to know we would never do that on purpose, and was willing to call and let us know.  We drove right back to the restaurant and gave the waiter his proper tip, even though the manager said we could just take care of it next time we were in.

I know that these examples are small and personal, but I believe that the practice of speaking honestly and tactfully as much as possible is best in most situations.  I think we owe it to ourselves and to others to find the courage to say what needs to be said.  I’ve heard the old saying, “Silence is Golden,” and there are times when it is.  Hateful, petty and spiteful words are much better left unsaid.  But for everything else, real communication is priceless.

What Did You Say?

DSC00076Right after we bought our house, my husband and I discussed the remodeling that needed to be done first:  paint the magenta bedroom a nicer color, replace the leaky windows, install new kitchen counters and a deeper sink, etc.  And I distinctly remember hearing him say that he planned to take down the doorway and wall that enclosed the stairs to the second story. We didn’t want to have to open a door to go upstairs, and thought that an open staircase would look very nice.  The next day, my parents and I were trying to carry our mattresses upstairs, and we couldn’t fit the box springs through the doorway.  I said, “No problem, we’re going to take this wall out anyway,” and got a crowbar and knocked a big hole above the doorway so that the box springs fit through.  Honestly, I was proud of myself for fixing the problem on my own, without my husband’s help.

But it turns out that while I thought he meant “We’re going to take that doorway out right away,” what he actually meant was, “Someday we’re going to take that doorway out.”  So he was more than a little surprised to come home from work that night and find a huge, gaping hole above the doorway.  Not happy, but definitely surprised.

I also remember when my son was in kindergarten and had to get to school especially early one morning.  In an effort to save time, I asked him to lay out his clothes the night before, so we wouldn’t have to go through the ritual of deciding what he was going to wear (he had strong opinions about that when he was young) in the morning.  When I went in his room that night, I saw that he did indeed have his clothes “laid out.”  His t-shirt was spread carefully on the floor, and his jeans were placed just below them, with the shirt overlapping about an inch or so.  Sticking out from the bottom of each jean leg was a single sock, and when I looked underneath the top of the jeans, sure enough, there was a pair of underwear.  I thought I had told him simply to select his outfit for the next morning, he thought I wanted him to arrange his clothes exactly as if he was wearing them.

The older I get, the more I realize that there is often a big difference between what one person means to say and what another person actually hears.  It might be because different people assign different meanings to words, or it might be because we all tend to filter what we hear through our own, unique perspective.  I really don’t know.  But I strongly suspect that a lot of the hurt feelings and conflict we experience in our life stems from simple misunderstandings about what exactly we mean when we communicate with each other.

For my part, I’m trying to remember to make more of an effort to make myself as clear as I possibly can when I speak to others, and to take the extra time to make sure I truly understand what others mean when they speak to me, even by asking silly-sounding questions when necessary.  It isn’t always easy, and I’m certainly not always successful, but I do think it’s worth the time and effort.  I know my husband wishes I had done that all those years ago, before I started swinging away with my trusty crowbar.  Because we didn’t open up that staircase for another ten years, and plaster walls are a real hassle to patch.

You Mean It’s Not All About Me?

IMG_0323One of my many faults is that I can be a little too sensitive at times, a little too quick to take offense, and a little too quick to feel snubbed or excluded.  I try to fight this by taking the time to step back whenever I feel hurt and analyze the situation objectively.  I ask myself, “Did he really mean to say something hurtful?”  Or “Did she really mean to exclude me?”  The rational answer is usually no, so I just move on.  And I sincerely hope that’s how my friends and family are handling it when I say and do something that hurts their feelings.

Although I never try to hurt other people, I know for a fact that I have.  The other day I was hurrying out of a store in a strip mall when I ran into my old hair stylist standing on the sidewalk, chatting to a client.  Although I really liked the man and had gone to him for years, I had grown tired of the way he cut my hair and couldn’t seem to convince him to cut it differently.  I liked the way another friend’s hair looked, so I switched to her stylist a couple of years ago.  That day I had been caught in heavy rain without an umbrella twice, so I new for a fact that my hair looked horrible, and that my old stylist would be sure to notice. Which is why I responded to his enthusiastic greeting with just a quick wave and veered away from him, crossing the parking lot at an awkward angle, in a painfully obvious attempt to avoid him.  As I got in my car, I glanced back and saw him staring at me with a look of surprised hurt on his face.  I had snubbed him horribly, and it had nothing to do with him at all.  It was me not wanting to let my old stylist get a good look at me when I was having a very bad hair day.

That’s what I try to remember when I’m on the receiving end of someone else’s bad behavior.  Chances are, the other person’s behavior has nothing to do with me and everything to do with whatever is going on in their life at that particular point in time.  I like to think that if I had been having a better day when I ran into my old stylist, I would have approached him and said hello, nasty hair and all.  But I’d been having a truly horrible day, and at the time I just didn’t have the strength to be gracious (or even polite), as much as I’m ashamed to admit it.

So when I’m the one who feels hurt or snubbed, I try to remember that the negativity probably has nothing more to do with me than my bad behavior had to do with my old stylist.  That day, I was acting out of my own weakness, not out of any desire to hurt his feelings.  And that’s usually the case when I’m the one whose feelings are hurt, too.  Because, as hard as it can be for me to accept this truth, it really isn’t all about me.