Bring Your Own Best - to your life, your work, your day

Can you relate?

16 February 2020

Are you relatable? Have you ever thought about this? I recently told a woman who was serving us appies and drinks in our favourite local pub how much I appreciate her and how relatable she is. She was incredibly moved and said no one had told her that before. We talked about what it meant, and I thought about it and here's what it came down to. She is such a great listener, doesn't interrupt when someone's talking, maintains eye contact with an open interest in what's being said, has empathy and genuine interest in our conversations, and shares in our joy and laughter when we tell her quirky little stories about our day-to-day fumblings, sometimes sharing her own examples to show that she understands. She relates. Without overshadowing, oversharing, or making it about herself. 

I later got to know her personally, and am honoured to call her my friend. She's probably 20 years younger than me. Young enough to be my daughter. She just invited me to her baby shower. She is beautiful, with thick blonde hair down to her waist, a smile that lights up the room, and a spirit and energy that makes people gravitate towards her. She's a real sunbeam. I invited her out for breakfast and as we got to know each other, I revealed a mental health crisis a family member was going through, and my feelings about it, and she opened up, too. She lived on the street. She was homeless. She learned to hustle to survive. Today, she has recovered from addictions and lives a simple life with her partner. She is a survivor. And she resonates with openness and acceptance for other people, with no judgement or shame. She opens her heart and hears people, truly listening. She is relatable. 

If I were to ask 20 people who know you how you rank on being relatable, I wonder what they would say. I wonder if you know. Really, the only way to find out is to ask. Okay, that sounds easy. Just stop reading this and go ask them. Or you could also think back to cues or indicators you've noticed when you communicate with them. Do people slow down and enjoy a conversation with you, opening up and sharing their authentic feelings or thoughts? Do they seek you out for advice or to share news with you? Do they tell you personal things about themselves or their lives? Do you have a shared feeling of connection and sort of just both know it? That's kind of what relatable feels like. 

I think it's about empathy, attention, other-focus and self acceptance. It's not about needing to be seen, needing to be heard, needing to be right. It's about being open, listening, caring, being curious with other people. It takes courage to let go of these needs, especially if they haven't been met for you, in your childhood or your adult years. Sometimes we feel unnoticed, unimportant, lacking in value. It shows up sometimes as imposter syndrome. That's a good one to google if you're not aware of it. And we compensate by either shrinking and hiding, or by turning our volume up. I know I tended to turn my volume up, to be the first one to speak, interrupting others and finishing their sentences. I needed to be important. It turns out it was because of my fear, when I dug in with a psychologist after my divorce, was that I wouldn't matter, that I wouldn't exist. That I wasn't needed. So I showed up too much. And I wasn't relatable. Instead, I looked like a perfectionist who needed to be right. I am so grateful to have had this painful, and life-changing feedback from my mentors, my supervisors and trusted colleagues and friends. It allowed me to transform. To become who I really am. Someone who cares deeply about others, listens well, who wants to belong and relate to others.

Last month I was having an intake session with a new coaching client. After about 15 minutes, my lizard brain tried to take over, and luckily I shut it down. You see, he had a need to be heard. It showed up to my lizard brain as interrupting, talking over me, not listening to anything I said, and having his next comment ready before I'd finished saying anything. You know that behaviour, when you're telling someone important and you can tell they've stopped listening and are holding their mouth ready to say their next thought. They've checked out. I'm so grateful to have learned some of this about myself, as it allowed me to turn my lizard brain thoughts into empathy, and act on it. I listened. I nodded. I listened more. I allowed space for him to get out what he needed to. I sensed that he was nervous and anxious and that there was more below the surface. I paused when it was my turn to speak and asked him if he would do something with me. He agreed and sat up straight. I asked him if he would take a deep breath with me. I didn't tell him to take one. We took one together. His shoulders came down a bit. I took a second breath and we talked about those breaths that go right down to the bottom of our stomach. 

He opened up some more. Let me in. He said that he wasn't quite there yet, but had been working on it since a mental health breakdown that put him out of the game for a few weeks a while ago. Now we were getting below the surface. He was letting me in. I let go of my own need to bring him value, my own intentions in doing our intake. I met him where we was, I listened for feelings, and let us create space together to get to know one another. Our one hour intake turned into a two hour visit, getting to know each other, building trust. And relating.

A beautiful thing happened the next time we met, which was in a supportive group setting. He opened up with the others and talked about how he sometimes listened to respond, rather than listening to understand. He was already aware of this! I felt so relieved I hadn't mentioned it, but had chosen to focus on trust and relating. He shared the technique of listening to understand, said he was working on this, and in doing so, granted trust to the others, and became more relatable. More real. 

People inspire me. We all want to be our best versions of ourselves. We want to be understood, to connect, to bring value, to relate. I hope you can learn to Bring Your Own Best to the party of life!