When it comes to poker, Kenny Rogers said that we have to “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, and know when to walk away.” We also need to know when to hold our words.
On a train heading into NYC, I was sitting where I like to sit on planes and trains – on the aisle where I have access to more people to observe and smile at.
At one of the smaller stations a family of six boarded the crowded train – parents, children and grandparents. The dad took the middle seat next to me, the two kids took the two seats behind us, the mother stood in the aisle next to her children, and the grandparents were scattered around the car.
I wanted to be helpful but approached it badly. What I wanted to say was that I would like to help her sit with her family, but I started the conversation with a phrase about me, saying, “I don’t want to give up my aisle seat but….”
I didn’t get to the but, because she responded harshly with, “No one is asking you to.” Yes, she’s right. Yes, I handled that badly. Yes, I wanted to say something to clear the air, but I didn’t. I had a feeling my trying to make it better was going to make it worse. Here’s what I (re) learned:
1. Go with your instincts. We may have discussion and negotiation going on in our heads – should I, shouldn’t I say anything. The best rule of thumb is to get out of your head and into your body and check in with your instincts/intuition. It will always steer you well.
2. Sometimes it’s ok to stay silent. I have a friend who tells me when it comes to our children telling us what we consider to be crazy, outlandish, upsetting things, we should stay silent, and to do it well and do it often.
3. Start off with a positive statement about the other person. If it’s about them, don’t talk about yourself.
4. Give people the benefit of the doubt and let them finish their thought. Had she let me finish – and I don’t blame or judge her for not letting me – she might have gotten to sit with her family.
5. Sometimes it’s ok to let conversations hang in the air and fade away on their own. Letting it go was the best thing to do in this case. I could have apologized to her, or to her husband sitting next to me, but the whole thing could also have escalated. Sometimes silence is golden.
6. Learn from the experience. I know I handled the experience poorly, but instead of keeping me from starting conversations, I am using it as a learning experience so that I can improve the next one.
Not every conversation will go perfectly, but let’s keep talking to each other with the best of intentions.