Oak Communications • Biography
• Personal Statement
I recall this day so clearly because it changed
my life. At the time, I was not aware of the event's impact,
and I am sure that the others involved had no idea that over
time it would mean so much to me. It was really quite an everyday
occurrence. I was 10 years old and my mom and I were at the
checkout line at the A&P grocery store in Santa Barbara.
We saw my Girl Scout Brownie leader, Mrs. Brimer, as she was
leaving the store and she stopped to talk with us. She told
my mom, "When we start a new activity, Sue often says that
she can't do it. Then she proceeds to do it just fine. I wish
that she would be more confident in her abilities."
Wow, I had no idea. I was surprised that Mrs.
Brimer noticed how I reacted to new activities and that she
had taken the time to talk to my mom about it. I hadn't thought
about how I was behaving. So, I began to pay attention to the
way I approached new projects. I discovered that I actually
was good at doing a lot of different things, especially arts
and crafts. I realized that I could be confident instead of
scared to try new things. That is a big lesson to learn at 10
years old. Mrs. Brimer had shared a "blind spot" with
me. She pointed out a way that I was thinking that was not helping
So often we don't realize when we are being
a "teacher" or having an impact on someone else. Recently
I was visiting my adult niece and she was showing me her new
home. She said that she makes an effort to put things away after
she uses them and that she learned this from me. I didn’t
remember that this was something I had "taught" her.
She was proud to tell me about this practice that she had learned
Sometimes there are things that I want to
teach or advice I want to give that the other person does not
want to hear. For example, I have tried to teach my husband
how to chop an onion. He doesn't want my advice. He wants to
chop onions his own way. Why do I insist on telling him how
to do it my way when clearly it bugs him? I have now stopped
doing it. What made me stop? – a dose of my own medicine.
I was visiting my dad after minor heart surgery and helping
him with his household chores. One evening I was making dinner.
He proceeded to instruct me on how to chop an onion properly.
Well, that was my lesson. I realized how annoying it was to
have someone else tell me how to chop when I had been doing
it just fine for many years. At that moment I swore I would
no longer advise my husband on onion chopping. I am sure there
are other things he would like me not to advise him on too.
Personally I’m always ready to
learn, although I do not always like being taught.
So what is the difference between offering
a helpful lesson and giving unwanted advice? I think the answer
is similar to how as a coach I work with clients. First off,
the client is making a conscious decision to work on an aspect
of their professional or personal life. They are ready to make
a change or an enhancement in their life. This readiness is
key. When I was 10 years old and my Brownie leader made a comment
to my mom, I must have been ready to let go of an old way of
thinking about myself. Did Mrs. Brimer know this? Did I ask
her for feedback? No, but sometimes, the people closest to us
may sense we are ready to hear something, or maybe she just
gave it a try to see if it may be helpful. The client must also
want to work on the area in question. My husband clearly was
not interested (nor was I with my father) in learning a new
way to chop an onion. There has to be a desire to change or
learn a new skill or behavior.
The context is also important. I am sure that
if I were at a cooking school in Italy, I would relish learning
how to chop an onion in a new way from the teacher/chef. I also
imagine that my mom had shared the same observation that Mrs.
Brimer had made about my approach to new experiences, yet I
hadn’t paid much attention to her comments.
I have noticed that often people are more
open to hearing feedback from those outside of their immediate
family members or closest colleagues at work. Sometimes this
is due to the status they confer to the others or it may be
the way the person shares the feedback. If an observation is
said from a compassionate place and with understanding of the
person and her circumstances, she is more apt to really hear
it and take it in. A powerful question or an illustrative story
or metaphor can open up the idea so that it is heard and experienced
at a deeper level.
Most of us have blind spots – our ways
of being and doing that do not serve us well. A trusted friend,
coach or teacher can make all the difference in helping us to
become aware of our blind spots and then identifying ways to
make a change in our behavior.
© Sue Schleifer,