Category Archives: communication

Don’t Fix, Listen.

Recently I had to go shopping for some new boots. Hiking boots, to be exact. Now, I wasn’t looking for boots in order to go on some big trek, or, indeed, even to be hiking. I was looking for good hiking boots that I could wear on a regular (almost daily) basis, in order to try to support the possible healing of an injury in my foot. After trying numerous other solutions, and practically exhausting our options, my doctor came up with this idea: If we really stabilize the foot and ankle and give it the space and support to rest, even when in use, it might begin to heal on its own. This is perfectly aligned with what I believe: Space and time create possibility for healing.

So, one afternoon I found myself in the outdoors store, feeling somewhat out of my depth, looking for a new pair of hiking boots that would meet this need. Luckily, the footwear sales associate was a young woman who was pretty knowledgeable about their selection of footwear, which was vast. I say luckily, because what I learned during my 2 hours of experimenting with different boots was that she was the only associate who listened to me and tried to meet my needs. Everyone else wanted to simply fix it.

When I arrived in the shoe section, she was helping a male customer, who upon listening to my conversation with her decided that for the next 30 minutes, he should chime in and tell me ALL the things I should be doing for my foot, as he has had a similar (but not the same), problem for nearly 15 years. I listened, patiently, and repeatedly explained to him that I had, in fact, already tried most of what he was suggesting, without success. He didn’t believe me – because he didn’t hear me. As I continued to try on boots with my sales associate, he continued to offer unsolicited advice based on his experience, without ever actually listening to mine.

If it had stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. But it didn’t.

Over the course of the next 90 minutes (and at least 25 pairs of hiking boots!), about 5 other sales associates all decided to come and “help,” without actually helping. Here’s why: not one of them listened. They were all experts in knowing footwear, but they weren’t experts in knowing my foot. Currently, where my foot is concerned, I’m an outlier. I don’t even fall on the spectrum of normal, and so I need to search for solutions that match my needs, not solutions that match a statistic of information.

For some reason, Zoe, the sales associate who helped me throughout, seemed to understand this, and the only reason she did was because she listened.

Toward the end of my shopping experience, after 2 hours and narrowing it down to two pairs, I felt relieved and simultaneously frustrated. I looked at Zoe in appreciation and said, “Thank you.” She replied simply, “You’re welcome.” And I took a deep breath, but then I paused. What was I thanking her for? Obviously, I was thanking her for her help, but it was more than that. I felt grateful to her for listening, for trouble-shooting with me, and for massaging a solution. So, I told her that. And without ceremony, she turned to me and said, “Well, I’m glad. Because that was a lot of mansplaining going on.”

I admit to being shocked and surprised at her response. But as soon as she said it, I agreed. I realized that each additional sales associate (all of them male) as well as the original customer who thought himself helpful had all tried to fix my problem, but none had actually listened to it. Instead, they took the approach that they probably knew better, and offered their solutions, ideas, and unsolicited advice without once asking me a question. I’m not saying their intentions were wrong. I actually think they were trying to be helpful, even though they were anything but. It wasn’t until Zoe confidently and casually named it (she wasn’t being derogatory in her words) that I realized what had truly happened. There was a clear gender divide in the approach to the problem and the solution. There was even a female customer who had been looking for boots at the same time as I was, and upon reflection I can say that her words and actions reinforced my statement about this divide.

Personally, I have never used the phrase “mansplaining,” though I can certainly look back at my life and find ample examples of it. Zoe’s introduction of the word so effortlessly in conversation shows me just how much things are shifting. How much the old paradigms are falling away (often while putting up a fight). And I’m glad. I’m glad for many reasons, but in this instance, I’m glad for one:

If we are to come together more as a society, we need to communicate better.

The first step to communicating is listening. We can’t fix a problem if we haven’t actually listened to what’s wrong. Only then can we tease out the best and most appropriate solution, often through a period of trial and error. Trust me, I didn’t want to try on 25+ pairs of hiking boots (my poor fingers were rubbed raw from the lacing), but I did because I needed to find the best solution available to me. And the only way to do that was to listen. I needed Zoe to listen to me, and then I needed to listen to my body – my feet – as I zeroed in on what felt best.

So, while I wish it weren’t true (I’m ever the optimist), I accept that I was mansplained during my hiking boots excursion. What this means for me is that I will double-down on my listening, in the hopes that I can share, embody, and teach a different way. Or at the very least, I can offer a respite from a society focused on “fixing” as Zoe did for me.


My NEW boots!

My NEW boots!

The Two C’s That Make the Holidays Stressful

One of the reasons we have so many arguments and disagreements with family during the holidays is because we engage in the practice of Competing and Comparing. Here’s what I’m talking about…

There’s a difference between saying,

“I make my potatoes differently,” and “I make my potatoes differently.”

See?…. No?

Yeah, it’s not obvious is it, not without tone and inflection – which is to say, not without intention. It’s the exact same phrase, nothing more than an observation perhaps, but the intention changes everything. But…

A passing observation is rarely passing if it’s speckled with comparison and competition.

If an external value system is placed on the item in question (potatoes), then comparison is immediately included in the intention (“different” becomes “better”). Comparison is better or worse. Once we have attached a value to it, it opens the door for competition, which internalizes the comparison. (aka: I’m better because my potatoes are better.) Whoa! And therein lies the problem, because it can be said or received either way. We don’t control how others receive our statements, of course, but we can certainly control how we say them.

So, how do you navigate the holiday season with less stress, arguing and disagreement? Raise your awareness to Comparison and Competition, and choose something different.

Sub-text, second-level dialogue, and assumptions are all fodder for Comparison and Competition. Once we engage in either we create opportunity for disagreement and argument, hurt feelings and frustration. So, it’s easy to see why the holidays can be fraught with strife for so many as families gather together to celebrate. Keeping the two C’s in check can lead to more enjoyable holidays together now and in the future.

Finally, when in doubt, it’s best to choose gratitude. Regardless of how the potatoes are made, a simple “Thank you for making the potatoes” goes a lot further than any passing observation ever could (even if Aunt Bernie’s potato recipe is awesome). There’s little room for disagreement when gratitude is shared.


Can you clearly describe or define your boundaries with others, right now, even as you read this? In our lives, there are so many different types of relationships that each have their own set of boundaries. The boundaries between a husband and wife differ from those between a mother and child – which in turn are different from boundaries between co-workers, or a customer and vendor. And what about boundaries between friends? Clearly we need to create and apply different boundaries with each relationship we enjoy.

For most of us, it’s easy to discern some specific boundaries, and we would assume others would also have the same well-defined “lines in the sand.” Obviously, we don’t lie, cheat, steal or otherwise endanger or hurt someone else. We also do our best not to yell or curse at anyone, if we can help it. Many boundaries are reflected in our laws, as I just mentioned. But there is a gray area – a no man’s land, if you will – of boundaries that somehow always seem to be flexing and bending, depending on the situation and the type of relationship. It’s in these areas that we need to focus.

Good boundaries are established by clear, open and honest communication. Where communication is lacking, you can bet boundaries are being breached. Unfortunately, it’s in these scenarios where feelings can get hurt, and emotions too easily become our compass. So, what happens when a boundary is crossed, unknowingly?

For starters, let’s ask this question: what do you do when someone crosses your boundaries? If someone yells at you unnecessarily and uses curse words or other pejorative language – do you say something? Do you yell back in anger? Do you walk away? Do you sit quietly and build resentment within? These are all choices you can make. But when a boundary is crossed, our typical first reaction is emotional. Why? Because it was a violation. It was a violation of our emotional, mental (and sometimes personal) space. Addressing a direct violation can be reflexive. However, the real challenge comes in when the other person violated your boundary unknowingly.

Think about it this way: If you draw a line in the sand and someone defiantly steps over it – they are blatantly, and consciously, crossing your boundary. However, if you never draw the line in the sand (or you hold an invisible line in your mind), isn’t it highly likely that someone will eventually cross into your space, causing you to react when the boundary is breached? Sometimes, it takes someone stepping in our space for us to realize that we actually have a boundary there that we hadn’t previously acknowledged or accepted. If that’s the case, it might be a good thing to be grateful to the other person, because they just gave you an opportunity to learn something about yourself that you didn’t know. And sometimes having someone step over the invisible line simply creates an opportunity to build a stronger relationship, infused with greater mutual respect for one another. Either way, gratitude is a good approach to take when your ill-defined boundary has been broken. Because, as much as we all like to point the finger at the other guy, we played a role in the violation, by not communicating our needs effectively enough.

This isn’t to say that we need to go through our lives drawing lines in the sand everywhere – that would be impossible, and quite unwelcoming. But it is to say that unintentional boundary violations can lead in one of two directions, which is always a choice: 1) they can cause you to run away, build walls, or otherwise react to the unexpected stimulus in a defensive (or aggressive) manner; or 2) they can create an opportunity for growth, understanding and communication. Which, in turn, can strengthen your relationship with others, but also with yourself. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? Long-lasting, loving relationships with yourself and others?

So, the next time someone steps over the line, ask yourself first if you actually drew the line and communicated it to them. Then, be grateful. Because if they knew the line was there – then they just taught you something about themselves that you didn’t know, or you needed to be reminded of. And if they didn’t know the line was there, then they’ve given you an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and improve your communication skills. Either way, you will come out stronger, wiser, and more empowered to be yourself.

In Love and Light,