The Right Words at the Right Time

The Right Words at the Right Time
I once was on the phone with a friend who told me it’s important to him to matter to people.  I found myself thinking, “Yeah, me too,” in my mind when he said it.  Later, when reflecting on this conversation, I realized that while it is important for me to matter to people – I definitely want to – I think what is more important to me is that I communicate and act in such a way that all the people who matter to me know it.

 

And this aligns with another concept about which I’m often thinking: the right words at the right time – a phrase inspired by a Marlo Thomas book from the early 2000s.

 

I think there are so many examples of the right words at the right time.  It’s the colleague who takes the time – whether in person, or by quick text, or by longer handwritten note, or by email – to congratulate another employee on a new position.  It’s the family member who took the time to comment on a Facebook photo, “Your grandmother would be so proud of you.” She had no idea that just a couple days earlier I was telling a story about my grandmother and what incredible timing that comment was – and how much it meant to me.  It’s the friends who share links or quotes or whatever else with me, and say “This made me think of you” or “I know you will love this.”  It’s the friend who sends me an email after a horrific situation and says, “I have been mulling and mulling over what I wanted to say to you about last night, and I think I’m struggling because no words seem quite right.”

 

That’s just it.  The words almost always are exactly quite right because they’re being shared at all.  All of these examples – and countless others I could offer – are all the same thing.  It’s people saying “I’m thinking of you.  You matter.”  Those may not be the words used, but that’s the message I receive loud and clear.  And, to me, that’s an example of grace.  And I’m grateful for it whenever it happens.

 

I think we all get busy though, and it is hard to follow through with letting people know they matter and with sharing our thoughts.  On the very morning I first started writing this, a friend texted to let me know she appreciated a card I had sent a couple of months earlier.  She realized she had not said anything, and she wanted me to know how much she valued it.  My response was a smile and a heart emoji, and that about sums it up.  When we reach out, when we share our feelings with other people, it makes us smile, it touches our hearts and it reminds us that we matter – and that we have cultivated lives full of people who matter to us.  I was glad to know she liked the card, and I was glad she reached out to me to tell me.

 

Last year, when I was on a vacation and only accessing email and social media through my iPhone, I saw an article I knew a friend would like.  I emailed it to myself so I could remember to print it out and send it to him when I was home.  (This is an older friend who doesn’t use email regularly.)  Although I had the best of intentions and I prioritize this kind of reaching out, I totally forgot about it.  It was not until months later that I was going through my email and I found the link.  Oops.  I still printed it out, wrote a note and mailed it to him though.  I wished I had remembered it sooner, but the offering was the same: this reminded me of you, I am thinking of you, I thought this would make you smile – and there’s no time limit on those expressions.  Just like my friend who texted me about the card I sent.

 

My life is busy, and I sometimes get distracted.  This is true for all of us.  I focus back though, eventually, and I don’t disregard what I wanted to do only because a little time went by.  I still do it.  That’s the important part.

 

So I think how people matter to other people is in large part through the right words at the right time.  And those words – and gestures – that are shared every day in small moments, in person, by mail, online, through texting.  We matter to people – and we let people know they matter to us – every time we say and we act in a way that says, “I am thinking of you.”  And, when we do, we never know if that’s just what the other person needed to hear, if it was indeed the right words at the right time, or if it was a more fleeting uplift.  Either way, I think it’s one of the best investments of our time we can make, and it matters – and it’s often how we matter to other people.

 


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A favorite example of a friend reaching out from 2012 – a note mailed to me on scrap paper because she knows I REALLY  appreciate reusing and recycling.  😊

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Admitting Mistakes

Admitting Mistakes

Last spring, I was having dinner with a friend who asked me, “Nicole, when should leaders admit they’ve made a mistake?”

I could barely get the words out fast enough.

“All the time!”

“Whenever possible!”

She went on to tell me about her boss, who not only never acknowledged when she could have done better or when something was done wrong, but she also never complimented anyone either.

This is a toxic combination which will create a culture of people who are disgruntled and distrustful.  This will create an atmosphere where no one is at their best.

I thought about me.  I feel like I constantly own things – sometimes things that were not even mine to own – but that’s what taking responsibility is all about.  That’s what leadership is all about.  If I feel good when staff do the right thing – which, fortunately for me, is very often – then I have to accept, show grace and take responsibility when they do the wrong thing.

Leaders can’t only take credit when things are positive; leaders have to own all of it – the imperfect, the bad, the disappointing.  Of course you hope hard times pass quickly, but you have to see them through.  To me, that’s the way it works.  There is simply no other way.

Brené Brown talks about the original definition of courage in her TEDxHouston talk.  She says:

“Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language – it’s from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart” – and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so…, very simply, the courage to be imperfect.” 

If you’re leading with courage, you are showing up all the time.  You are showing up when things are positive, when things could be better, when things are imperfect, when things are real.  And by doing this, you encourage others to do the same.  If you show yourself to others, others show themselves to you.  That’s something I know for sure.

I vividly remember the first time a boss swore in front of me.  Someone had done something she wished he hadn’t, and in the privacy of her office, only to me, she exclaimed that this person was a “f***ing a**hole!”  I think my first reaction was laughter, followed by shock that she shared this with me.  It made me see her differently.  She was a real person.  This was a real reaction.  And she trusted me with it.  This was definitely someone I wanted to show my real self too as well.

And that’s how it goes.

When should leaders show who they are?  Whenever possible.  All the time.

When should leaders admit when they’ve made a mistake?  Whenever possible.  All the time.

You have to own everything when you lead, and in doing so, you’ll show up for the people you’re leading – and encourage them to do the same for you.

 

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Grace

Grace

I think grace is a concept that is really hard to pin down.   What does it really mean?  It is kindness?  Is it a connection to God?  Is it a synonym for poise?  I think it’s used in all these ways – and many more too.

I saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak last September in D.C. and one of the unplanned messages of her talk – which came from someone wanting to give her a gift – was about receiving grace whenever it’s offered.

She said otherwise the energy flow is broken.

I think if you view grace like that – it’s something to receive, it’s something to which you should be open, it’s something that you should see as a gift – it doesn’t matter how you define it.  It can be God, it can be love, it can be kindness, it can be thoughtfulness or it can be something else – or maybe some combination of all of the above.  I know a lot of people think many of these are the same thing, and some people don’t, and it’s okay whatever you believe.  I think it’s almost refreshing to have a concept like grace that is so open to interpretation that it’s both personal and universal without any controversy either way.

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A moment of grace at Camp Sunshine 2014

This idea of accepting grace has been in my head for a year now, and what I know for sure is that it does not matter how you define it.  All that matters is that you know it when you see it and that you are open to it at every opportunity.  What matters is that your first instinct becomes to accept it and welcome it rather than shut it down and think you should not have it.  Sadly, that’s many of our gut reactions on this.

Two months ago now – eleven months after I first started thinking about this – I had an experience where I had a feeling grace was going to be offered to me.  I was not expecting it (that’s really important to note), but I practiced in my mind what I was going to say in case it was offered.  I wanted to be gracious.  I wanted to be open.  I wanted to practice what I preach (and a couple weeks earlier, I had been vocal in preaching it with friends).  I did NOT want to interrupt the energy flow.

And, despite all of these good intentions – and even a rehearsal in my thoughts – I was not as open to it as I should have been.  I had to stop and self-correct in the middle of my response.  I said the thing that I think is the worst thing to say when grace is being offered to you: “You don’t have to do this.”  And of course the response was – because I’ve said it myself when I’ve been the one trying to offer grace: “I know I don’t have to, but I want to.”

And that’s it. Right there, that’s grace.

And I don’t want to interrupt that.  And I don’t want it interrupted when I’m trying to give it.

So, that’s the challenge.  Recognize the gift of grace.  Recognize that it’s an ongoing possibility no matter the place or group.  Recognize that to accept grace, you may have to let go of something else.  Recognize that grace is (among so much more) a hug or a kind word or a generous offer or a treat of ice cream – or in my example above – a complimentary oil change!

You can see and have grace everywhere if you’re open to it.  Recognize that the more we pause, breathe and create space between our reactions that the light dawns on us faster.  And with that light comes the grace.  And then we’re more open and more grateful – and I think also more apt to offer grace too.

And that’s definitely an energy flow I want to encourage.



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