I was reminded of this yesterday after having presented my two-hour workshop, "It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It." UNC-G does a great job of advertising the workshop and I had 15 people attend the 10:15 AM class on a Saturday morning--impressive.
I've been presenting this workshop for almost two years and it's intentionally geared toward what I call "occasional speakers," those individuals who may have to speak once or twice a year for work but who for the most part avoid giving speeches.
In yesterday's class I had an attorney--someone who speaks in front of judges and juries on a regular basis. He was interested in learning some persuasion techniques which I don't touch on a lot in this intro workshop. So I was concerned my class wouldn't suit him.
Watching him, I confirmed my suspicions. He was bored. Probably bummed there was no graceful way to exit the class without it being obvious. He thought he'd wasted his money. I saw him yawn. Game over.
So no one could have been more surprised than me when he approached me after class and asked if I did one-on-one consulting. He has a big trial on his calendar and wants to be prepared for court.
Here is the lesson I took away from this: We may think we know what others are thinking/feeling, but we never really do. Ironically, this is a point I touch on in my workshop. The natural look of any audience member is almost always one of boredom or neutrality. I warn my students not to let it throw them, yet I found myself jumping to conclusions about an audience member based on that look of neutrality. And I know better.
It reminds me of a counseling session I did years ago at the Women's Resource Center. I was new to Peer Counseling and listened as a woman 25 years my senior described losing her job, being forced out of her apartment, her husband left her, and her kids weren't speaking to her. It was just disaster after disaster in her life. She was very reticent and hard to pull information from. I remember the session as very awkward and almost painful to sit through. It was obvious she wasn't happy having to talk to me--this inexperienced girl who'd never had to go through anything close to what she was dealing with. She didn't smile and seemed sullen the entire time. I was very disheartened after the session, thinking I had let the woman down and wondering if I was really suited for peer counseling.
Two months later I received a card in the mail from this woman. She thanked me for our session and listening to her. "Having someone sit beside me who cared gave me hope," she wrote. She went on to say she had been motivated to re-examine her life after our session and had started making some changes.
Again, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I left our session feeling I had done her more harm than good. Yet the experience had been positive for her.
The point is, we never know how we touch the lives of others. Your smile to a tired check-out clerk may make their day. Holding the door open for a person entering behind you may be the only nice thing a person does for them that day.
We don't have to know exactly how we affect every person in our lives. It's enough to know we hold that potential. Which makes it all the more vital that we do reach out to others, treat everyone with respect, and look for the small, simple ways--like a smile or a wave to cut in front of us in traffic--that may improve someone else's day.