“The preparations of the heart are man’s, but the answer of the tongue is from G-d” -Proverbs Chapter 16
A woman approached me at a recent social gathering. I’m somewhat reserved and I have to make a concerted effort to generate ‘small talk’. My favorite relationships develop organically through a professional environment (where conversation revolves around action and strategy) or simply with gregarious people who prefer to broach more substantial topics. Left to my own devices, I smile awkwardly and rack my brain to say something that isn’t weather-oriented (sports and headline news, two topics I observe being brought up casually, are not natural areas of interest for me- especially the former).
However, an almost magical transformation overcomes me when I represent an organization or am working in a particular role. I find plenty to say, feel comfortable shmoozing with a number of people, and enjoy the art of listening. It’s as if the role I am ‘playing’ offers me the right intention when speaking to people. With the right intention, speech is natural.
This may sound strange, but I’ve questioned people who seem to fly seamlessly in and out of light conversation. They know what joke to make to put the other person at ease, they’re quick to divulge about their personal lives, and they are connected to many people as a result. “How do you do it? Did you have to work on it or is it natural for you?”, I fire questions at social butterflies and they all respond with the same amused, “I just say hi“.
But then I found myself seeking a middle ground. One between the social butterflies and the wallflowers. I made the effort because I know it’s important to connect with others. I didn’t always have something to say but I’d confidently (sometimes faking it) wait for the moment- in a stranger’s presence even- for the conversation to pick up momentum. When it did, we’d chat and laugh until there was another lull. A somewhat clunky version of the social butterfly but still getting the job done, albeit slower.
I approached people who I would have previously panicked about not having anything to discuss. I embraced the awkwardness of the moment and let them be equally responsible in our connection. Something remarkable happened.
It turns out people enjoy talking. If you have a question about them, they often have an answer. If you probe deeper, many find it refreshing to go deeper with you.
Then I upgraded. I started asking myself everyday (or as often as I can), how can I give chizuk (strength) to another person. Suddenly, the conversations began to flow. There was so much to talk about and, more importantly, there was so much opportunity to listen. This question I asked myself has become addictive and a paradigm shift in the way I relate to others. I had prepared my heart and my tongue divinely followed.
I now have a role like I did in my professional conversations. That role is the michazek (strengthener). Not always and not when I need to receive but as often as I feel I can. Turns out, it brings me joy- it actually brings me more strength!
What a beautiful idea…one that can be implemented in difficult conversations with challenging people: “The preparations of the heart are man’s, but the answer of the tongue is from G-d” -Proverbs Chapter 16
Imagine the world around us if we all viewed our interactions with strangers, neighbors, friends and – even better!- family with this lens.
And so, in my haste to escape my awkwardness, I undervalued the road being awkward paved for me as a giver, as a ‘servant leader’, to others.