Be there to listen; even when you don’t know what to say

When someone dies, we often find it difficult to know what to say to the people they’ve left behind.  Strangely, rather than overcoming this sense of embarrassment, we often avoid having a conversation at a time when, by just being there to listen, we could make such a huge difference.

As an Independent Celebrant, I often meet with loved ones very soon after their loss and it is my job to talk to them about the person who has died, to help us prepare a service to celebrate their life.  It is a huge privilege to be with families at this time and to hear their stories and share their memories.  I love helping them open up their box of happy memories, finding comfort in the joyful moments they all spent together is a wonderful way to start the process of grieving.  And most of what I do at our first meeting is listen.

It is hard to know what to say.  Nobody finds it easy, or comfortable to start a conversation about death, especially when it seems there are no words that are “enough”.  And there really are no words that will ever feel like the right ones, so you have to be yourself and use the kind of language you normally do.  We tend to over-think what to say and this becomes our excuse to say nothing.  “better to say nothing than the wrong thing”, we tell ourselves, but in truth, it is better to say something simple and show you are thinking of them.

Before the age of facebook messages, we used to write to people when they lost a family member or loved-one.  Sympathy cards, which so often seem ‘old-fashioned’ now, are exactly that – a lovely, kind old-fashioned way of showing that you are thinking about what that person and their family are going through.  They cost very little (even less if you make one yourself, or use writing paper) but mean a great deal to the recipient.  I recently spent time with a client looking through more than 130 cards from her husband’s work colleagues and friends.  She was overwhelmed by their kindness and by how many lives her husband had touched.  She told me that their words meant more to her that she knew how to express, and that they were giving her great comfort.

One of the wonderful things about being a Celebrant in a small community, is that you also hear about the way people support each other at a time of loss.  Food arrives regularly, cooked with love and care and with no thanks expected.  Lifts to appointments and offers of filling in forms and informing locals of funeral arrangements are common place and every time I visit a family, there are neighbours popping in to make tea, do washing or collect the kids for an hour’s relief.  I am constantly reminded that life goes on and it is the people around us who ensure we’re able to get back on board as we start to recover.

And as time passes, after funerals and wakes and celebrations of life are over and the family has to return to ‘normal’ life, comes the time when being there is even more important.  Once the initial shock and support has subsided, and everyone has had to return to their own lives, it can be a very isolating time for the family.  Once the organising and preparing for the remembrance has ended, family can feel at a loss and the reality of finality hits home.  This takes a different amount of time and a different form for everyone.  We all grieve at our own pace, and one of the most important things you can do is reassure them that there is no need to rush the process.  Reassuring them that you’re there for as long as they want to talk, whenever that might be, is very supportive.  Don’t be disappointed if they don’t take you up on this offer, and don’t hesitate to keep offering; when they’re ready they’ll hear you.

Most of all, don’t stop talking to them about the person who has died.  We tend to feel like we should avoid mentioning them, in case we upset their loved one.  I like to think of this in a different way  – when we talk to them about the person who has died, we help them remember the memories they created together, their shared stories and the good times they enjoyed.  We give them a chance to reconnect with their happiness at a time when they are feeling sad, and to see that the memories will always be with them to enable them to experience those emotions again.  It’s a gift we can give them which might make them cry as they smile.

I think we talk too little about death in our society, and this is a key reason why we hesitate to engage with those who are experiencing it within their family group.  We don’t know what to say, because we’ve rarely heard our parents talking about it and it’s highly unlikely it has been discussed at school unless a tragedy has impacted the school directly.  When we look at cultures where death is more widely discussed and made part of life, we discover the challenges in talking about it are less frequent.  In Mexico, for example, every child has experienced the Day of the Dead celebrations, by the time they reach school age.  Death is part of the culture from art to music to tourism, so offering words of support is second nature.

I’d love to know if you were supported by people listening when you lost someone you loved.  How do you think we can make it easier for people to feel they can offer a hug or words of support?

With love

Dinah

Planning a wedding to please everyone (and other ideas that will drive you to the edge)

You know your mother has always dreamed of giving you the Big White Wedding, the one her parents couldn’t afford for her.  You know your dad will be nervous but proud in equal measure and has been keeping his top-hat specifically for your big-day.  You’ve got to accommodate every diet from gluten-free to vegan, via all the allergies and intolerances and that’s before you’ve even started on the table plan.  Just who is this wedding about anyway? Read more

It’s all about you!

It is, it really is!  It’s all about YOU.  Isn’t that wonderful news?  Or is it rather scary?  We’ve grown up being told it’s not all about us, that we should focus more on those around us, make our mission in life to put others first.  And these are wise words.  Indeed, I am a great believer that focussing on others builds us as people and gives us huge joy.  So when did the rules change?

They changed the moment you decided to follow that dream – you remember, that crazy moment when you put on that new hat and said “I’m going into business on my own!”  The minute you decided to blaze your trail and join the ranks of the Entrepreneur, you changed the rules.

And if you didn’t you missed something HUGE!

Here are a few reasons why it’s all about YOU:

– YOU are the real USP (unique Selling Point) in your business.  People do buy from people.  When there is a choice about where we spend our money (especially when money is tight) we’d rather spend it with someone we know and trust; someone we’ve connected with or heard great things about.  YOU.

– YOU are the values in your business, the ethics and code of conduct.  YOU are the Customer Service Policy, the Complaints Procedure and the Guarantee.  YOU set the standards that create your credibility. YOU.

– YOU are the face and the voice of your business, the person who engages on social media, who writes the blogs, who shares the pictures of your family and your first time on a stage or meeting new people. YOU.

– YOU are the driving force, the energy that kick-starts the action every Monday morning, the determination to keep going when it feels like it’s hard out there, the reason to get up and do it all again tomorrow. YOU.

Most of all, YOU are the one that will realise that, above all else, when you embrace that it’s all about your contacts, your clients, your friends and your collaborators, when you value them above everything else in your business, YOU will be a success.

It really is all about YOU.

Have a great day

Dinah

 

Is being ‘fine’ costing you business?

Do you really know anyone in business who isn’t finding times hard at the moment? Is there any business that has not been touched by rising costs or falling demand – or both. Yet, when we meet fellow business owners and ask how they are doing, we often get the standard reply: “I’m fine”.

I often wonder what that really means. I know what a fine day looks like; I know what a fine wine tastes like , but I have no idea what a fine person looks like, or how they feel. This programmed response, delivered without sense or feeling, has become a badge of honour which threatens the sanity and success of every business owner. One recently asked me during a mentoring call, “If everyone else is fine, is it just me who’s getting it so wrong?”

Working with businesses on their credibility means that I get to explore their real values with them and how they apply these to every aspect of their lives. Not surprisingly, integrity and honesty are key values that many of them claim are key to their success and vital to their business. Honesty must surely include a genuine response to questions about them and their business; yet you can guarantee they are “fine” when asked about themselves and you can bet that their business is “fine” too.

What keeps us back from sharing the true picture? I think there are many reasons for this auto-response, including:

1) Fear of failure – we believe that admitting that all is less than “fine” might make us look like failures. My personal experience of this has been quite the opposite – a business person who is working hard to improve their business during tough times gains respect and support from their peers who will often go out of their way to find them referral opportunities in hard times.

2) We don’t believe people actually want to know – small talk and polite conversation has developed into noise; people ask questions and don’t wait for or listen to the answers. We have become so accustomed to this, that it is almost considered impolite to say anything other than “fine thank you” when asked about our health, our day or our business.

3) We think everyone else is thriving – partly, of course, because nobody is admitting they are not fine. Our own insecurities are easily given a louder voice as we hear others sharing their success stories. The idea of admitting we are actually less than “fine” becomes an impossibility.

These programmed replies might make us feel comfortable in the moment, but in the longer term they could well be costing us business. Why would I go out of my way to help you if you are “fine”. I have so many people in my networks, I want to ensure I am connecting people and helping them grow their businesses all the time. I focus my attention where it is needed the most so that I can be effective. The people who are “fine” are not on my radar.

Taking the first step to admit all is not as good as it could be feels a bit like getting naked at a networking event; and like this feeling, it is not a good idea to do it in public! Take small steps, with the people you trust first. When we confide in the people we value and trust, we pay them an enormous compliment; remember that when you open up and ask for their advice and opinions.   We often hear the expression “a problem shared is a problem halved” and often as we hear ourselves talking through a situation, we start to see the solutions for ourselves.

The relationships that develop through this honesty will become the strongest in your network and real referral partnerships are built on trust and mutual respect – credibility. The first time I asked someone I valued for help, admitted all was less then “fine” they smiled from ear to ear and said “me too. We’re having a really tough year”.  We now refer business to each other on a regular basis and work on marketing and media opportunities for each other.

And who ever wanted to be “fine” anyway? Wouldn’t you rather be fabulous, or wonderful? Flying or soaring? “Fine” and “OK” are two places I don’t want to be again and with the help of my networks, I am never going back.

I originally wrote this blog for Virgin.com during my time as on of their regular contributors (VIB)

 

Perhaps it’s my age…

perhaps it’s my age, liberating me from unhelpful embarassment and restraint; perhaps it’s my illness and the concept of living every day as if it might be my last; perhaps it’s just that it was the right time for me to free myself and express opinions without fear of offending or starting a real discussion. Whatever the trigger or catalyst, I find myself in unfamiliar, and actually rather wonderful territory. I’m expressing my opinion and enjoying it!

i’m not sure if it’s a British thing or a female thing, or perhaps it was a cultural one, but I’ve spent the majority of my life keeping my opinions largely to myself; the exceptions to this have been the times when I’ve chosen to get involved with like-minded groups where our purpose is to express these shared views.

At home, I was taught that I should stay quiet and allow adults to talk as they had more experience (read: “be quiet, you know nothing”).

At school, the message was to listen unless you had something exceptionally clever to add to the lesson (read: “you’re an average student, you have nothing to add”).

At Sunday School, I failed to pay attention as I was convinced from a very early age that there was going to be no “god” in my life, and thus was taught Only one thing, that hate travels through generations and we have to choose to be the place where that ends.

I have always hated political correctness and the idea that I’ll be offending someone no matter what my opinion, and that therefore I should say nothing. And as I have always feared, this silence is dangerous and can spread faster than any cancer. Whole States sit in silence so as not to offen the religious rights of another, and allow wars and genocides to occur whilst they sit in silence.

well, not me. Not any more. Perhaps it’s my age…..

In my opinion…

 

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In my opinion, there is too much hate in the world.  Too many young people taught to continue the hatred developed and nurtured by their elders and ancestors. Too many reasons found to continue the hate despite all the obvious ones to end it, to move on.

in my opinion, there are too many people afraid to speak out for fear of offending the sensibilities of another. Fear that prevents progress, prevents stopping wars and deaths, prevents conversation.

in my opinion, people are too keen to point the finger, to say “It’s because of what you did to my people” or “it’s your fault because you hurt us first”. So determined to say “your offence is worse than mine” that they’ve failed to see how abhorrent their own actions have become.

in my opinion, it is only when we can make the bravest decisions that we can make progress. Only when we can be free to say “Your way is not for me, my children, my future” that we can have hope of change.

in my opinion, it is only when we create a world where it is safe for a woman to express her opinion without fear of rape, persecution or death for doing so, that we will ever have hope of a peaceful future.

In my opinion, it is only once we move past religion and into an understanding that everyone is living a great and wonderful gift, the gift of one life,  one chance to love and make a difference to others, that we can hope.

in my opinion, living in a world where I have to say “in my opinion” to prevent offending anyone, where I have to stop and wonder “will someone hate me for this?” is a sad truth, a life less than content.

What’s your opinion?

 

Dinah

Was it something I didn’t say?

Arguing Middle Aged CoupleWe’ve all heard ourselves, and others, say it: “Was it something I said?” often in total confusion, as we wrack our minds to work out what it was we said that could have resulted in the reaction we see in another.

I wonder though, how often it is what has gone UN-said that really causes most communication breakdowns?

“Sorry” or “Thank you” would often be enough to stop another feeling taken advantage of.

“How was your day?” or “I want to hear about what you’ve been up to.” can be equally effective.

A couple of years ago, I was working with a mentoring client, who was finding it difficult to wind-down from work in the evenings.  To top this off, he told me that when he tried to talk to his wife about his work, he could see the interest in her face drift and he suspected she was planning dinner rather than really listening.

Asking your partner how their day was does require you to care about the answer.  Give them real attention, turn off the mobile and social media can wait for 20 minutes while the two of you talk. And listen.

I heard from a great friend last week, who is celebrating 15 years of working with her business partner.  I asked her what she thought their “secret” was. “Communication” she replied. “Communication, communication, communication.”

“We talk to each other constantly. I’m sure a stranger would thing we’d lost the plot” she laughed, “But it works for us.”

I asked her whether they ever disagreed on things, argued about which clients to work with, or what focus they wanted for a project.  “All the time” she replied “But with respect and a willingness to listen to each other.”

The next time your partner, or a friend or family member seems upset with you, ask yourself if it could be something you haven’t said.

I’m off to say “Happy Birthday” to my father, who’s 84 today – I can only imagine the reaction I’d get if I didn’t remember to say that!

Dinah

Give the gift of saying “Thank You”

accepting a compliment with a simple Thank You can feel difficult,  Accept that it's not about you.

“Really? What this old thing?”
“You’re joking, this makes my bum look enormous!”
“That’s sweet of you to say; when did you last get your eyes tested?”……

Sound familiar?  What is it that makes it so hard to accept a compliment at face-value and respond with “Thank you”?  What is the force that prevents so many women enjoying something that was intended to lift their day, to acknowledge something about them that prompted another person to say “Wow!”?

For many years I was convinced that accepting a compliment with a “thank you” was somehow saying “I know.  Yes, I am fabulous, thanks for noticing”;  of course, in my head this was done in a highly dramatic arrogant tone that was, frankly, repulsive.  I visualised people walking away and whispering to each other “I only said it to make her feel better!”  And of course, I gained little from these encounters except an opportunity to emotionally beat myself up, to remind myself I felt less than pretty, less than perfect.

Then I learned an interesting lesson from a friend;  accepting a compliment is not about ME.  When I allow someone to tell me I look great and greet this with a smile and a “Thank you”,  I give them a gift.  When people pay us a compliment, they do so with the intention of lifting our mood, making us feel great, making us glow.  When we treat that compliment, that gift, with contempt, we are showing them we don’t trust them, don’t value them.

When we accept the praise and the compliment, we allow them to enjoy that moment when someone unwraps a gift and you know you found exactly the right thing; they smile, the smile travels to their eyes which start to shine, they want to hold the gift up and show the world and you know that they understand why you chose it, that you’ve been paying attention, that they matter to you.

Focus on the person paying you the compliment today and thank them for taking the trouble to choose the perfect gift by giving them one in return – you’ll be surprised the impact “Thank you” can have on you both.

Dinah x

Will you choose Fire or Water?

Choices impact every aspect of our communication with others and one of the key areas we can make a choice to change, is in communication that leads to arguments or confrontation.  When a conversation starts to head towards an argument, you can make a choice –  will I fight fire with fire or will I fight fire with water?

It takes at least two people to have an argument.  That means both of you have to choose to create it; both of you have to take part or there will be no argument.  When you choose to make it an argument, you attempt to fight fire with fire.  “I am standing up to them” or “he started it” are just excuses.  You had to engage to make it an argument, you had to make a choice to take a conversation down that route.

So, today, when someone is “looking for an argument” choose to let them look elsewhere.  Make a choice to drown the flames, not fan them.

Dinah 🙂