Conversations have never come easy for me in the fact I don’t have a lot of filters. I decided when I was younger it was better to keep what I was really thinking to myself but then cloak what I did say in thinly veiled passive-aggressive sarcasm and humor. That unconscious tactic often put me in the position of the analytical, nerdy class clown. What do you do when you find people are finally laughing with you, not at you? In my case, I found myself opening my mouth more and more without much thought of what was being said or the power of spoken word. I found I could endure awkward social conversations by self-effacing light-hearted pokes at myself or others.
As I became more and more comfortable in my own skin as an individual but moreover as a leader, I became more sensitive to other people’s unease in social situations and especially new or hard topic conversations. For example, a new conversation would be the dreaded networking conversations of trying to appear really interested in the person in front of you and somehow squeezing in what you do and how you really need this sale without too much small talk in about 45 seconds. Hard topic conversations would be those difficult talks about how someone was underperforming, or how a close family member was struggling with a taboo topic. As my internal radar started picking up on others discomfort I used humor to set them at ease, lighten the moment, and hopefully move on quickly. What I found was sometimes the opposite effect would happen. When my true colors were revealed as a somewhat unpredictable, gawky, nerdy girl it actually opened the door for people to share more and more of what was on their hearts and minds. My unconscious tactic of trying to keep uncomfortable social conversations at bay actually drew people in closer, gave them an opportunity to share deeper, and dump a whole lot of concerns, frustrations, and broken heartedness in my lap. In other words, the more I tried to hold people at arm’s length and keep the interactions as brief as possible actually opened doors for more and more problems for which I didn’t always have the answer.
This led to one of the biggest Aha’s in recent years in my life. I rarely had the answer people were looking for but I did have love, compassion, and empathy if I allowed myself to feel those things and then act on them. I became more aware that I had so much more to learn about love, how it was shared, what it meant, and its power. I also realized I needed to be much more generous with this advancing definition of love. I was grievous of how I had limited the power and strength of the words “I love you” within my own faith and Christian practices. I understood in every sphere of influence other humans whether they knew it or not were in desperate need of unqualified forgiveness and unconditional love. When someone treats others poorly, acts out, stabs someone in the back, talks behind people’s backs, drinks too much, takes drugs, commits crimes, etc. they are calling for love. Those acts should be seen as what they really are, a call for love. They also needed this not just one time but over and over again.
In my family, my children need to audibly hear me say I forgive you and I will ALWAYS love you in tricky discipline situations requiring punishment. In my church, where you think the phrase would be heard over and over again in unison, my church family needs to hear and see that I love them no matter what. In whatever work setting I am in, leaders over me and definitely employees in my charge need see and hear that I love them by providing honest feedback and opportunities for growth when inevitable mistakes are made.
It seems so simple, but at times it feels too ephemeral and well, fluffy. My heart knows that if I love people more, if I forgive people more then they, in turn, would start to love and forgive more. However, my logical side keeps a running list of social faux pas, the political incorrectness of verbally telling and showing people outside your family that you love them, and the negative outcomes of getting a reputation of a lover. Seriously, I can almost hear Barry White in the background and see my name in lights as the “LUV Doctor.” I have become aware if I offer more and more grace and less and less judgment even all those awkward social conversations I really bumble through could have a higher purpose and a stronger outcome.
I guess I am figuring out my life probably needs to be more than skirting awkward social conversations. I know I am a person of influence who had a God-given responsibility to make a lasting impact in this life beyond sarcastic, under my breath side comments. More on this later I am sure.
How have you been shown unexpected love and grace?