15 January 2021 by Marjoleine van Sinderen, 4c Unity
When my sister-in-law, 6 years ago, suddenly died at a young age, I knew immediately that a sad, grey, frightening and uncertain period would begin. We, my brother and his young sons, family, and friends would terribly miss her. It was terrifying.
I remember calling my friend Sanna, right after my brother informed me. I explained her what happened and asked her: “Can you be my lifeline? My connection to life?” She did.
Although I sometimes felt down and my life was at a standstill, her life went on. During walks she would talk about her children, what was happening in her life, etc. Just little things. It may seem trivial, but with that she showed me: ‘I am still here. Life still goes on. Yours too, one day. Even in difficult times, some parts of your life aren’t changed and are still ok’.
Something to hold on to
It gave me something to hold on to. In those moments, I could breathe, forget my worries about my brother for a moment, just live, laugh and quietly listen to her. It was a sparkle among all other meaningful conversations I had with other people. People who knew my brother and sister-in-law and wanted to express their sadness, worries, comforting words and best wishes. Very kind. It happened everywhere I went: in the shop, outside, on the phone, messages. It went on for weeks and months. So heartwarming and at the same time there was sometimes no ‘escape’. And there was Sanna again. She continued to be my positive lifeline. During our walks, she took me on her walk of life, through her conversations about everyday things. It gave me hope, relaxation, a deep connection with her and tears of joy.
A meaningful gesture to Americans
This morning I had to think about the anxiety, worries and disbelieve many Americans experience nowadays, because of covid 19 and what happened in the U.S. Capitol. Some worry more than others. Some openly, some not. I thought about how my friend on January 20th 2015 became a lifeline to me for months. I thought about what she has meant to me and wondered about ‘the lifeline’. How a person could even be someone’s lifeline without even knowing.
Being a lifeline is a beautiful thing. A small but meaningful gesture. I wonder if and how we can be a lifeline for our American colleagues, friends and family. Consciously or unconsciously. By for instance doing a two-to-three minute small talk at the beginning of a meeting, by continuing our weekly conference calls, by sending a message via Whatsapp or LinkedIn. By being a constant factor in their (working) lives, by showing that some parts of their lives have not changed, by listening and helping.
As a result your working relationship improves
Would that already be a lifeline to them, just to do these things? That depends on the situation, the need and the perception of your American colleagues, but it is certainly thoughtful of you. You don’t need to mention the issues, just keep it positive and general. (please read my other blog: Why it is not wise to share your views on what happened at the U.S. Capitol.) Talk about things you have in common. It doesn’t have to be complicated. ‘Keep it light’.
We cannot lift and carry the world on our shoulders and you are probably not a psychologist. It is not your role. Our gesture to Americans should certainly fit in our overloaded schedule, but it doesn’t need to take a lot of time. We can simply ask them: “Are you OK? Did you have a nice weekend? What do you need (to carry out your tasks)?” It seems to me that this is a fairly effortless and kind thing to do. It may even improve your working relationship with them.
“What? A lifeline?! Let’s stick to business”
Some readers might think or say: “What?! This is a confusing article. I have a professional working relationship with Americans. That is what they (and I) prefer and expect. It is not based on emotional bounding or whatsoever. So, a lifeline?! I don’t have time for that. Let’s mind our own business and continue the meeting.” My answer is: continuation in itself can already be a lifeline. “Well, then you wouldn’t have had to write this blog, because we will continue our meetings and project as usual!’ ? Maybe not, but in the meantime, don’t forget to do the two-to-three minute small talk. Americans do small talk differently, but they do. It may have even more value now. Besides, being aware of their current situation and possible feelings, can already help them and you unconsciously.
Would you like to know more about how Americans do small talk to break the ice with you and how you could do the same? 4c Unity provides with the online training course Inspire & Convince Americans a tested and proved way of firstly opening up Americans to your ideas (with small talk) and secondly convincing them of your technical or managerial ideas. Moreover, it brings insight into the American way of thinking, their lives and business culture to improve mutual recognition and appreciation.
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