The Question to Cut Through the Clutter

by | Mar 21, 2018

You’ve been there. A long day at the office. A long drive between you and your desperately needed glass of wine. You are craving silence. Peace. Perhaps some tunes.

Then phone rings. It’s your spouse. All you want to do is to hit that dismiss button and launch that puppy to the way-back because the last thing you want to deal with is whatever they’ve got going on at the moment.

So you answer the phone. As you do.

This was the scene a few weeks ago after a tooth-pulling, exhausting day in my world.  Mike’s world at the time—a bit of a hot mess. When I answered the phone, he proceeded to blather on and on and on about every single issue he was having with the grass, with the team, with the irrigation, with the fertilizer—the drama of a Golf Course Superintendent. Blather, blather, blather. All I could think was bother, bother, bother, as in I can’t be bothered to hear this right now, I can’t be bothered to pretend to care, I can’t be bothered to fix this all. I’ve got my own issues.

I could feel the annoyance building as he went on and I was seconds away from implementing the sorry-phone-connection-sucks-losing-you-click routine when I thought, “son-of-a…I am doing it.”

I’m doing what I just spent the past eight hours teaching people NOT to do.

◊    Saying sorry to pretend to care but really using it to dismiss the situation and get it out of your face.

◊    Getting all noisy in my head about how much work this was going to be for me to: fix this situation, find him a new job, coach him about talking to his boss about all of this stuff, encourage him to have a meeting with his team, and about 342 other ideas that were popping in my head about how to make it all better.  (To be clear, he had asked for none of this. As a fixer and out of micro-managing love, it’s what I do.)

◊    Feeling neglected because when was it going to be time to tell MY STORY about MY HORRIBLE DAY because you think you got it bad, I’m going to out-bad your bad day by a LANDSLIDE my friend!

I found myself in the fiction telling, spinning out of control, blowing things out of proportion state my participants had been in all day.

It was time to throw down the question that had cleared through the clutter with them:

What is this really about?

What was the noise and annoyance and frustration about in my head? I did a quick scan, and realized the normal false-story-fuel culprits were all present: I was exhausted, I was hungry, and I had to pee. Fuel to the aggravation fire.

With that acknowledgement, I got really quiet.

What is this really about for Mike?

Mike is a man of few words, hence his love for his job. Nature. Grass. Minimal human interaction. He was saying A LOT of words. His talking made me shut off the talking in my head for just a minute. Something must be up for him to be the chatty one in the conversation.

What is this really about?

I stopped all of the noise and listened. Not just to the words, but what was behind the words. Mike is talking a lot. Mike is saying a lot of things about a lot of things. Mike is not actually asking me to fix any of these things. These are all things I cannot fix or do anything about because I do not understand half of what he is talking about, although I really want to.

Mike stopped for a breath, and ended with his go-to shut down line: “It doesn’t even matter.”

I said, “No, Mike. It does matter. You know what else?” (Get ready for the poetic mastery that is about to drop…) “It SUCKS.”

He got quiet. The line was quiet. He said, “It DOES suck.”

With that, the frustration of both of our days…evaporated.

In that moment, Mike’s job situation was still a stinker. I was still tired and hungry and desperate for my glass of wine with many miles of highway to go before that sweet moment happened. Those were the facts.

The difference after those two words were shared? The feelings had completely changed. I could hear the relief in Mike’s voice that I hadn’t done my usual solving and just stayed quiet and listened. I could feel the tension go from my body when I realized that all he needed was someone to get into those size 13 nasty, wet, smelly, fertilizer-laden work boots and imagine what a day in the life of Mike was like. Not to fix or do anything, simply let him get it out.

For me, my stories had fizzled since the narrative of fixing and solving and all of the extra work Mike needed me to do was fiction. My day had actually finished strong—I had felt the need to out-whine Mike because of my current mood, not so much because of anything that had happened.

When things start spinning sideways asking, “What is this really about?” is a way to pause, stop, get quiet, and listen. It prevents us from throwing in that insincere, overused “sorry” to pretend like we care but really we just want the noise to stop. It helps us get to the real cause of the issue, and THEN we can fix the right thing, if it needs fixing at all. Most of the time, I find the fix comes from really listening, hearing, and being there with the person.

Along with constant snacks, plenty of sleep, and constant stops at public restrooms.



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