Honor with honesty

As a habit, I like to venture into my TED talks app every once in a while, to see what new intriguing topics people are talking about. I find the talks to be manageable sound bits from professionals, experienced human beings, and really brilliant people who know their stuff. I always find gems on there.

This is one of their shorter talks I ran into this week. It’s only about 5 minutes, and it’s worth listening to. For me, it was timed especially well.


You see, on Friday of last week, I witnessed something that still upsets me. I’ve no doubt seeing this made my back tighten with stress, and contributed to my ensuing weekend of back spasms and robotic, pained movement. I watched a guy and a girl on bikes and wearing helmets, come sailing down Market Street, carefree at 11am on what must have been a vacation day. It was sunny, not too hot, but that sunshine-y feeling disappeared.

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I heard a scream, and a clunk, and looked out the window in time to see the guy, about 20 yards ahead of the girl, and the girl was face down behind him. Apparently her bike wheel got caught in the streetcar tracks – which if you have ever done that, it’s a recipe for disaster. There is no pulling the bike wheel off, and very often the rider goes right over the handlebars. This is exactly what she did – head first into the curb. Thankfully she was wearing her helmet. I can’t emphasize enough how they should be worn by all cyclists. I cringe whenever I see a cyclist with iphone earbuds in their ears, listening to music, instead of traffic. But I digress…

The guy managed to get her off the streetcar tracks, and onto the center island. The panic and desperation in his voice when he yelled, “Call 911!” still gives me goosebumps. When the ambulance arrived, not too much later, they had to put her in a neckbrace and on a stretcher. Looks like she really wrenched her neck. It also looked like she may have broken her nose, as she had blood running down her face.

Having survived many a bike crash, I know the dread and anxiety when you think you’ve injured yourself, especially when it’s your face/teeth/neck. A skinned knee or a broken arm is practically getting away unscathed. When it’s your face/head/neck/back, the immediate terror and shock is only the beginning.

So when I watched this TED talk, I found myself with chills again. Paramedics and EMT’s see people on what is possibly the worst day of their lives. Some medical emergency that no one saw coming changed everything in an instant. One minute, you’re racing down a trafficless main street with the wind in your hair, the next, you’re face first into a curb across streetcar tracks wondering what the hell just happened and thankful for that stupid helmet.

What the speaker says is true – when people are going to die, there is no sugarcoating it. They deserve honesty. Don’t give them false hope. If I’m ever in that position, I prefer the honesty. I need to come to peace with what will eventuate, and there may be a calm that relieves anxiety. At least let me have that.

I think anyone, whether they find out they have malignant cancer and it’s terminal, or their baby will have down syndrome or another birth defect, or some other insanely difficult event will change their life, deserves to hear it like it is, so they can make the most informed choice about how to go forward. Give them that choice. Don’t take the power of choice away from them.

Your closest friends deserve honesty as well – arguably more so than others. Don’t tell your friend, “he’s gonna call,” or, “she totally flirted with you,” if you can already sense that he/she is just not that into him/her. By assuming we can’t handle the truth, you demean us, you take our power to control our own reactions. How can we build resiliency and handle life’s curveballs if we don’t know how to deal with the truth? Often I joke that ignorance is bliss, not certainly not in this case.

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Let them remember the beautiful children they brought into this world, the friends whose lives they touched, the partners they love but probably never said enough. Let them come to peace, share the regret, seek forgiveness, and know that their life meant something to someone.

In those critical moments, before we cross the threshold into the afterlife, or whatever it is you believe in, let us control what we can, accept what is changing and let go of what will never be.

This girl’s accident was not fatal, luckily, but every day, I can still see the white sweat towel on the center island. For the last 6 days I’ve caught it staring at me like the glaring eyes of a death we all must face at some point. I think this weekend, I need to go out and remove it from my field of vision, if not throw it away. I’m sure she doesn’t want to remember that.

There are so many better things to remember when you think about how short life is, and how much time should be spent dwelling on the past, creating a future, and living in the present. Honor yourself and others with honesty – everyone at least deserves that.


Withholding stories

When I read this, it resounded so strongly with me I think I felt the walls vibrate. Here, have a read:


Of course, that was my first reaction. Once I marinated on what I read for a while, I realized even more why I knew it to be true. The message is along the lines of one I shared when I wrote this post. What is that untapped potential we all have in our very beings that doesn’t get shared? What about the other 6/7th’s?

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But more importantly, I liked this article for sharing the doors that honesty can open, so they bear some repeating, for effect.

  1. Honesty and openness prove we are trustworthy.
  2. They display our humanity.
  3. They highlight the importance of hard work and personal development.
  4. They allow others to know us and themselves better.
  5. Honesty and openness challenge others to share their stories.

I rewatched an episode of SNL when Christoph Waltz was the guest host. There was a skit of a game show, with a set up similar to Wheel of Fortune, but instead, it was a show called “What Have You Become?” It had really sad, pathetic people as contestants, and the game was simply the host of that show asking the contestants the question: “What Have You Become?” If the contestant didn’t have a mental breakdown and realize how pathetic his or her life was, they won the round.

When you ask yourself the question, “What Have I Become?”, honesty and openness are of utmost importance. This creates self awareness to step away, look at the facts and observe the situation with an outsider’s perspective. You shouldn’t lie to yourself.

What I love about my interactions with people in the past 3 years, is the brutal honesty with which I attacked conversations. I put my humanity on display. By asking myself questions about the kind of person I was and wanted to be, I navigated some very tough decisions and remained as true to myself as I could be. I lived 1. – 5. above everyday.

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It can be confronting when someone with whom you interact is brutally honest. “How are you?” garners a response that requires eye contact, nodding, involvement, listening, and offering some kind of response. You can either match their honesty, or shy away.

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I think of how I can come across when I answer questions. I offer funny stories that happened that day, as I see a lot of humor in my collection of moments. Sometimes I’m not fine and I don’t feel like lying about it to make someone more comfortable. Whether I respond with an emotion or a story, I make it personal. It’s me. I’m sharing me with you. Sometimes people don’t know how to handle honesty, simply because they are not used to it. Rules get bent, truth gets stretched, and a distorted mangled remnant of the truth can remain. Not to sound cliché, but some people can’t handle the truth…

I cherish those honest moments. They have an integrity to me. They’re important for me to connect with someone, and for someone to connect with me. Maybe it’s over a shitty morning commute or a funny bus character story, but I’d rather have that moment of truth than a hundred moments of dishonest imitation.

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I started this blog to tell my stories. You might be surprised what will come back to you if you do the same. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the responses I’ve received from people when I’m real with them. I’m connecting with people in a real way. In response, they are real with me and relate to me, almost immediately (or I get to them over time.) It doesn’t feel fake. Sometimes it feels forced, only if I’m just not in the mood for interaction or company. But that occurs rarely.

Share your stories in return, or pass them forward, but get them into the great wide open. Don’t withhold your stories. You know why.



People skills

I do have fucking people skills, goddamnit. I understand Tom Smykowski’s frustration in Office Space, I really do. If you haven’t seen this gem of a movie, I highly recommend you view it as soon as humanly possible, especially if you work in an office environment. It may be outdated and nearly 15 years old but it’s still as relevant today as when it was written.

My people skills were the reason I was given the challenges of a couple strained relationships with clients at work (see my post on being set up to fail here). Apparently, despite being an introvert, I have a reputation around the office of being outgoing, approachable, and contributory to a positive work environment. Little do they know, I’m actually a real asshole sometimes. I actually genuinely abhor dealing with people even on my best days. Let’s just keep that between you and me, OK?

When you dislike something so much, and when your natural inclination is toward comfortable solitude as a result of being an only child, you often get thrown into the deep end of the social pool and forced to interact with others. My mother would tell me to go call people and say hi. She supported my interaction in a youth group for girls to get to build friendships in my formative years. I was forced to learn to deal with neuroses and thus, developed “people skills” from a young age.

I really have to wonder what would qualify a legitimate selfish asshole to have wonderful people skills. So I did a little research to break it down. Let’s see what people skills really mean. By the way, I openly admit here to having to do research despite taking a communications course in college, as I have fried all the brain cells relevant to that class, which I can neither confirm nor deny showing up to drunk multiple times, including the final group presentation.

The first and possibly most important component of people skills is communication. This is the ability to take in information, clarify comments and participate in effective verbal and written exchanges. Communication isn’t just developing your own message and getting it across. It involves active listening to others and the messages they are sending. There are words, but there is also so much more: eye contact, body language, verbal and nonverbal cues, and facial expressions to name a few. The goal of the communication must be acknowledged between the parties – are they or you there to motivate, to persuade, or simply just to provide information?

Communication skills, written, verbal, and nonverbal, require a level of empathy to be effective. We are all human beings (unless you, like me, also engage in full two-sided conversations with your cats and dogs), and at the core of this humanity is our emotions, mental state, and the “space” we occupy at the time of the communication. Empathy, as opposed to sympathy, is the ability to have a visceral understanding of what another person is going through. Sympathy is not empathy – you can have sympathy for someone whose father passed away, as you can imagine, even if your own father has not passed away. Someone who is empathetic may have also had their father pass away, and gets it just that little bit more because they have shared in that experience. Empathy requires putting yourself in another person’s shoes and recognizing the thoughts, emotions and experiences that person is having. This is where the golden rule comes in – treat people how you’d like to be treated. If someone is having a hard day, maybe soften the communication a bit if you think it will land badly with the person with whom you’re speaking.

In my career, I’ve had some amazing examples at how to suck at giving hard feedback. There have been times I’ve been passed over for promotion, or really screwed up on a project, and I didn’t take the feedback very well as a result of the way it was communicated to me. When you think about the impact you want your feedback/constructive criticism to have, you want the person to take it on board, digest it, and then work hard to show improvement in this space. You need to word it and deliver it in a way that makes the person feel like righting that wrong is achievable, and that they feel supported to try again. If you really want your feedback to fall on deaf ears and come across as a douchebag, then you just go ahead and be blunt, don’t think about the head space that person is in, and just drop the bomb and run. Congratulations, you’ve learned how to be unsuccessful at managing people and “how to lose friends and alienate people” (that too, is a great movie).

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Some people are completely incapable of empathy. There is a level of emotional intelligence required to monitor not only other’s emotions, but your own. Have you ever met someone with a high EQ, or a great inclination toward emotional intelligence? They seem to know their own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals, and then take it a step further to recognize their impact on others.

If you work in management, as I do, a huge part of development and application of people skills means having a proclivity for conflict resolution. This is a HUGE part of my responsibility at work. Daily, I find myself mediating disputes and resolving conflict among customers and colleagues. This is where your internal lawyer/mediator needs to come out. You have to have the ability to clarify a specific dispute, not get emotional or take it personally, and listen in a non-judgmental manner to both perspectives. The whole point of conflict resolution is to offer suggestions for reaching an equitable compromise and demonstrate a willingness to work together to resolve the issue. Everyone wants the issue gone. Holding on to grudges, grievances, and getting emotionally invested to only get your way will never resolve the conflict, and simply wastes everyone’s time. The key here is while you may be burning, nay, fuming, on the inside, you can’t be aggressive, and for it to work, both sides need to win. While I may have a knack for conflict resolution from years of experience, it doesn’t mean I enjoy it. I’d rather have no conflict to resolve. Why can’t we all just get along?

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I think the biggest underlying skill necessary for conflict resolution is patience. Patience is something I still continue to struggle with today. My latest temper tantrum when I ran out of patience was not pretty. Let’s just say I got quite vocal and verbal about the fat neon white guy blocking my perfect Yosemite picture. I was incapable of maintaining an even temper, to repeat and explain information as necessary, and to control anger in even the most trying situations. The anger won, but hey, I got my shot. So I won too. Patience requires self-awareness and self-regulation – you need to adapt to changing circumstances whilst redirecting disruptive or unproductive emotions.

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Finally, people skills include tolerance. You must have the ability to accept differences, even when you don’t personally agree with or condone them. As an out and proud lesbian in the San Francisco community, tolerance is a dirty word, because to me, it means you don’t really embrace the person’s difference, you just put up with it. I’ve learned, though, that not everyone’s differences need to be embraced. When someone is wrong, I have learned to let it go and not feel the need to convince them they’re wrong. I just sit quietly and let them marinate in their wrongness. I tolerate their wrong point of view, and move on with my life. It’s not ideal, and I’d love to embrace them. They aren’t going to change though, or at least, I can’t change them. So it’s ok to just tolerate in this instance.

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In all of this, I would say people skills require building relationships built on honesty, comfort, familiarity, respect, and trust. While sometimes I’d love to live an insular life, impervious to idiots and difficult people, I simply can’t. Hrmph. People. Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em.