You may have heard the old quote that “Fish and visitors stink after three days” from Benjamin Franklin.
Sometimes, it doesn’t take three days.
Sometimes, people start to stink before they even walk in the door.
Most of you reading this are probably nodding your head in agreement, and imagining people you know that fit this category. You’re having a good chuckle, or shaking your head as you think about the time(s) that this has happened to you, and how painful it was for you to deal with.
You are probably not thinking about the role that you play in this dilemma.
I wish I could remember where I read this, so I could give it proper credit. Just know that this is not an original idea. But I read recently that in order for us to be most successful and to have an impact and influence in our relationships, we have to be invited in.
This is relevant in most all of our relationships, including coaching, teaching, leading, and work relationships. While it’s true that players generally have to listen to the coach, and the students the teacher, and the employees the boss, there is a built in impediment if those subgroups don’t invite the leader in.
Our problem, so many times, is that we fail to recognize this, and we just invite ourselves in, assuming, for some reason, that we are welcome.
When I first started coaching in college, I really wanted to connect with the head coach, establish a friendship, and become someone that he liked and trusted. I was not as patient then as I am now (though I still have plenty of work to do), so I tried a little too hard to make that happen, rather than letting it take its natural course.
One Sunday afternoon I was out running errands, and I ended up near his neighborhood. Thinking that this might be a good time to work my way further into his good graces, I figured I’d pop in unannounced and say hello.
I have a few friends at this point in my life, who I might do this with, where it wouldn’t be weird or inconvenient. This guy, at that point, did not fall into that category. It was clear from the moment that he opened the door, that my visit was unexpected (obviously) and unwanted. He wasn’t rude, just caught off guard, and didn’t really want me busting into his house, during family time, on a Sunday afternoon.
Because I was there, he allowed me to come in. I wasn’t really invited, but I went in anyway.
I wasn’t there 5 awkward minutes, when his wife, he was also not expecting me to be sitting in her living room, walked out wearing only a pair of jeans and a brassiere.
I’m embarrassed again just typing it. Imagine my horror when it happened live.
I honestly thought I might get fired. She was embarrassed, and angry (mostly with her husband for not telling her I was there) and I figured that would lead to an early end to my coaching career.
I’d entered into their personal space without an invitation.
When we do that, bad things happen, and unexpected brassiere appearances, believe it or not, are not the worst of them.
The other day I was in the locker room at the fitness center and this older guy walked by very gingerly, clearly in some significant discomfort. Someone he knew walked by and asked how he was doing. This was the really superficial question that we all ask and answer untruthfully.
“How you doin’?
“Good, how you?”
There’s no way that’s true as often as we say it. I would think, knowing how challenging and interesting life can be, that we are leaving out just a few details in this exchange.
Anyway, this guy asked how my clearly crippled compadre was doing, and rather than just say, “Good”, he came straight out with it.
“I’ve got vertigo”. He was bent over and moving at the pace of a snail. I felt bad for him, and was also very impressed that he had completed any type of workout in his current state.
Well, the other guy barged right in.
Uninvited Guest: “Oh, yeah, is that kind of like what happens after you are on a boat?”
Uninvited Guest: “Yeah, I had that one time too, I know exactly what you are going through”
Vertigo: “I think you might be thinking of seasickness”
Uninvited Guest: “No no, it’s just like when you are on a boat for awhile, and then you get back on the dock and it feels like you are still on the boat”
Uninvited Guest: “My doctor told me to bend over and look at something behind me, between my legs. Come on, bend over and look at that trash can behind you”
Vertigo: Actually bends over and looks through his legs at the trashcan. After he stands up…
Uninvited Guest: “How ya’ feelin’ now?”
Uninvited Guest: “It doesn’t work right away, best of luck!” Slaps Vertigo on the back and hits the showers.
Uninvited Guest came across like a real jerk, not only because he tried to treat Vertigo right there in the locker room with some witchcraft, but because he barged right into Vertigo’s life, completely ignored Vertigo’s pain, and overlooked an opportunity to be empathetic, in an effort to be the hero.
Many times, people don’t need a hero, they just need someone to fill in the seat next to them.
Recently I heard Bob Goff say,
“The best advice I ever received was a hug”
I know that may seem a little touchy-feely, but the point is that people don’t usually need our advice. The especially don’t need our advice if they didn’t invite us in. Vertigo didn’t need Uninvited Guest to fix him, he has doctor’s working on that. He needed someone to listen for a moment, tell him they were pulling for him, encourage him a bit. That’s it.
And I think that’s what Bob meant. We often think that in order to empathize with others, that we need to know what they are going through, or have had some similar experience. But really, when someone says, “I know exactly what you are going through” you think, “You DON’T” and then you tune them out, because they invited themselves right in, without your permission. Everyone’s situation is different, and everyone deals with things differently. We don’t need to try and find common ground in our experiences, when we can find common ground simply in our presence.
We are both here right now. You are hurting, and I am with you.
We are both here right now. You are excited, and I am with you.
Neither one of those requires expertise or experience, and both are better then us trying to sound wise, or fix something, or make a diagnosis.
And, we don’t have to be invited in, to let someone know that we are with them. When we don’t try to barge into someone’s heart, and we just let them know that,
“I’m with you”
then they can do with it what they please. At the very least, we’ve let them know they aren’t alone, and many times, that’s all people are looking for.