There is a woman I’ve worked with for the past 4 years that does not stand out much. In fact, I bet many of my co-workers don’t even notice her. About two years ago I started saying ‘Hi’ every time I walked by her and took her on as an unofficial speech client. First, I asked quick yes/no or one-word questions so she would talk to me. Then, I started showing her pictures or items I was holding to encourage eye contact and asking her open-ended questions and stopping in the hall obviously waiting for her answers. By the end of last year she was getting more comfortable and waving at me when we saw each other in the hallway.
Two things happened this year making me think that our therapy time was over. First she initiated conversations. I cannot imagine that she ever would have done that without all the groundwork I’d laid down to get her to speak. Then after that, she asked me for help. We were in the office together one day and she could not find her time card. She said she did not have her glasses. We found the card and she said thanks. I noticed the next day she had turned a corner down on the card to make it easier to find. In 4 years I had never seen her wear glasses. But when you can’t read, I realized, it is probably easier to tell people who can about needing glasses, rather than needing help to find your name written down.
I felt pretty proud of myself. I was thinking how much I improved this woman’s life and how much nicer it must be for her to come to work and feel more like an equal…. Someone (ok, me) wanted to hear what she has to say. I was standing a little taller and thinking I was super therapist when the tables were turned on me…
So.... I am an excellent talker….in most situations. There are a couple situations that are real challenges for me. The biggest is in a bathroom. I cannot pee if other people are around. My Mom called it a “shy bladder”. A friend of mine once told me that her mother would tell her before car trips to “squeeze out a few drops” I think about that all the time…. I could not imagine everyone sitting in a car waiting for me to squeeze out drops. I’d be stuck in the bathroom for hours!!
So, at work today I was headed to the bathroom. My client/co-worker was in the hall, I say a quick ‘hi’ and am ready to move on. Horror! She holds the bathroom door open for me and walks in behind me!! I am so far out of my comfort zone now I am trying not to hyperventilate. There are 2 stalls in the bathroom. She waits for me to pick, then goes into the other one. She starts talking to me! If it were anyone else I would have fled. I would have mumbled something about needing to make a phone call or do something and I would have bolted out the door.
For her, I stayed. I spent 2 years trying to make her feel comfortable with me. Maybe I was supposed to feel comfortable with her. I did not think about squeezing out drops- I focused on what she was saying. “Looking forward to summer break” …. Yes, me too. (Wow, I am talking to her!) “…sleeping in, maybe going out to lunch” …. That sounds nice. I heard her finishing, and going out to wash her hands. She is still talking to me. I realize she was not going to leave the bathroom until I came out!
She kept the conversation going while I washed my hands. I did not help keep it going at all. As we walked out of the bathroom together and she said, “If I don’t see you again, have a great summer” and smiled as she walked away. I barely gave eye contact and said, “you too.”
She made me realize that I had been pretty arrogant thinking I was changing only her life. This whole time while I had been thinking I was impacting her… I think she was impacting me too. J