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Two people talking, drinking coffee
Jun 26, 2019

Below Zero

Something really fun happened to me while on the D2BK tour… I was in the San Francisco Bay area in California and my friend Karen Hoffmann invited me to speak to the Polka Dot Network.

It was an intimate event as we were 8 women, which means I can do my Kindness talk a bit differently. So, I took the approach of telling them a bit more about my personal story, which I do not do often.

What happened? Less than 5 to 6 minutes into my talk, two women started to cry, and one of them interrupted me and asked if I would like a hug and I said with a laugh, “No… not really, maybe after the talk when I am finished.”

I continued on and before I knew it, the second woman interrupted and said, “This makes me so sad. I have not heard something this sad in a long time.”

What happened next was nothing short of magic…

Eight women in a room that suddenly all connected with compassion and empathy over my story. It was so interesting! It felt like a very constructive debate, one you might wish to see on national television… What I also need to mention is that this group consisted of immigrant women who are not native to America. That too helped make the conversation so interesting and animated because we did not all agree with each other, but we listened and all of us learned.

What I told most at the end is that we are our own worst communicators. When we see someone cry or display any show of emotion, sadness or anger, we want to help them but then what do we do? We interfere in the process of them telling their story. We don’t mean to, but we do!

All of us have listened to a friend, man or woman, tell us something sad but most likely when they start to cry, we offer a hug or we reach out to hold their hand or touch their back, anything to help show them we are there for them. But nothing could be further from the truth. You are interrupting the emotion of the person trying to tell you their story. The moment you try to interject your touch, the person has to shift to you and your feelings and thus disconnects from theirs… We need to let the flow happen, otherwise the friend is still stuck with their pain and sadness and the story has now totally deviated, as the friend is now consoling you.

I told the group of women that one of the beautiful tasks of the friend that listens is (a) to hold a safe space for the person and (b) not to stop the flow. That is all you have to do. But it is a hard task for any of us as we are not used to listening in that manner. If you can do this, then something incredibly important can take place. The person telling the story feels so safe because of the uninterrupted flow that it just might go to a level beyond and go to minus zero or “below zero” as I like to call it.

What does that mean? It means that the other person can, for the first time, go so deep into the vulnerability level of the story that two things happen for both the listener and the story teller (a) they heal together and (b) they have learned something invaluable from the story, each different, but both priceless.

This is why these women’s groups can be so powerful. I hope to work with some of them in the near future, and I want to thank all women’s groups out there that are doing good work and making the world a better place for it. Continue to rise to the challenge and listen, truly listen, when the next opportunity arises.

One final thought: These conversations happen when least expected so when they do happen, put your phone on silent mode, and take the absolute time because such moments never come back. They are unexpected and special!