This week I want to wrap up the communication series with people we know from Work & Life. Work includes clients and business associates and life could include parents you know from your children’s school, church acquaintances, neighbors and anyone who doesn’t fit the “Inner Circle” or “Friends” categories. These are people who know us but don’t really know us. They probably aren’t entitled to nor would they be interested in the drama of our lives and the depths of our hearts.
That’s what fascinates me with these different levels of relationships, they go from shallow to deep and these layers provide balance in our lives. Imagine having to dive deep with everyone you know (that would be utterly exhausting), but also imagine having to communicate on a surface level with all the contacts in your phone. These two extremes would leave us feeling empty, depleted and longing for more.
This last category (those who know us but don’t really know us) is worth exploring because I would say that about half of our interactions fit this group, especially for those of us who have kids who are in school.
When someone from this group asks you how you are doing after something tough has happened, it’s easy to say, “fine” or “good” or go completely the other direction and verbally vomit all over them. So what is appropriate to share with this group?
For starters, remember that the goal is authenticity and transparency but for this group I will also add “plus sensitivity.” By that I mean that this group does care about us at a certain level, they would certainly sign up for a meal train if we were to have surgery or would show up with a nice gift to celebrate a big birthday or retirement. But we need to remember that they have plenty of their own life burdens and don’t need ours piled on top. (I’m visualizing a picture of them carrying a large and heavy basket of dirty clothes and then we walk by and add several pieces to the top. How rude!) Being honest with these people means that we share facts or allude to facts without being cryptic, then add something personal but nothing of shock value. Here are some examples of how we can respond to them asking how we are doing when we are going through a difficult season:
“So thoughtful of you to ask. I had a rough night last night with my teenage son but he and I had a good talk this morning before he left for school. Still processing everything but glad it’s a new day. How are you?”
Or, “I’m hanging in there. Having a tough time watching my mom decline in health but we are sharing some sweet moments together. I’m a little tired today but trying to stay caffeinated. Thank you so much for asking.”
The thing we don’t want to do is to go into every little detail about our circumstances. We don’t want to give these things more power than they deserve on this level of human interaction. It’s just too much! If someone shows more interest and time allows, or if it comes up later when that person shows deeper concern, then we can elaborate.
I’m going to be honest here. When my marriage fell apart I was a mess, a HUGE mess. People I hardly knew would ask how I was doing and I would start bawling. I remember being at Bible study during the height of my pain and we were going around sharing prayer requests. When it was my turn I completely lost it, I don’t think those sweet girls could understand a word I said but they loved me through it. Later I realized that I had hijacked that time; I was in too much pain to find the balance on that day. I look back on facebook messages where someone I didn’t know very well would ask how I was doing and I would fully dive into it. I’m a little embarrassed now, I realize I was behaving like someone who had been dropped off in the middle of the ocean without a life jacket, I was just flailing and waiving my arms all over the place in a desperate panic.
I think the key to communicating with this group of people is honesty mixed with discretion. We can pour out our thoughts, feelings and words through a filter with the end goal of balance.
Thank you so much for reading these past few weeks, I’ve so enjoyed exploring the topic of authenticity in relationships with you! Sometimes it’s hard to delineate between different levels of relationships and I appreciate you diving into this with me. If something spoke to you these last few weeks and you were able to use it as a tool when communicating with someone, please share in the comments section. I always love learning and growing from others.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.