3 Lessons Learned When I Couldn’t Talk
I’ve been coughing up a storm the past week. Nothing super exciting like I’m gunna cough up a lung or something. Just a boring, dry, uneventful cough.
It made me lose my voice. That’s when the fun began.
Most of us have experienced losing our voice at some point or another. It dramatically impacts how we go about our day. Suddenly, without the ability to easily communicate our needs, wants and desires, we begin to get creative.
Hands start flailing around as if we’re playing charades. It looks like we have other issues.
We use extremely obtuse enunciation with our mouth, lips and tongue, to try and turn everyone else into lip-readers, when it really just makes us look like we have a piece of popcorn stuck in our throat.
We begin to write what we want to say down. This makes us realize how damn much we talk because it takes close to three minutes to write down what we could have said in 10 seconds.
And then we start to whisper. This makes people nervous because they don’t know why we’re standing so close to them….. whispering.
So… the funniest (and illuminating) things happened…
Lesson at the Salon
I wanted to get my hair cut so I had to go out and interact with the public. It was kind of awkward because usually during a haircut, you banter back and forth with the stylist. In my case, I sat there typing into my phone what I wanted to say. Usually, halfway through my sentence, my stylist knew where I was going and responded. (My stylist, Drew, at Zea Salon in Lakeview, Chicago, is awesome, by the way.)
I thought to myself, “Do people do that when we talk?” I bet we do. And you know what that means?
We aren’t really listening. Not fully.
Lesson 1: Our mental chatter while someone else is talking is no different than if we just opened our mouth and interrupted them. Might as well; we’re not really listening anyway. ACTION: Stop talking – inside and out – and see what can be learned.
Lesson from the Volunteer
As I was walking down the street after my haircut, there were some volunteers from Walmart trying to pass out reusable Walmart branded shopping bags. Turns out there was a new Walmart Express that opened around the corner and they were trying to create awareness.
The friendly lady asked, “Would you like a reusable shopping bag? It has three goodies inside, just for you!” I pointed to my throat, and whispered, “No thank you! I lost my voice!” I suppose I wanted to respond to her, but also explain why I was whispering. She responded with a smile, “Oh, ok then!” – in a whisper! She even crouched her head down and shrugged her shoulders a bit… as if she was hiding, or being sneaky.
As I walked away from her, I laughed for several minutes. I’m sure it would have been audible, had I not lost my voice. It was so freakin’ funny to see her respond in kind. But it also got me thinking…
People mimic us in subtle ways.
Lesson 2: It’s so important to be conscious and intentional about what we’re “putting out there” – our energy, tone, cadence, verbal and non-verbal cues, expression, appearance, etc. People will mimic you. In a sales conversation, this means you being everything you wish your prospects to be – confident, receptive, clear and ready. In a relationship, it’s the same – be what you want to see. ACTION: Be more conscious of my state of being during connection with others. Assess how I’m being, with what I’m receiving. Ask – same of different? Then readjust if I desire a different experience.
Lesson from Three Homeless People
As I journeyed to and from the salon, I encountered, on three separate occasions, homeless people asking for change. I wasn’t carrying any cash, so I was unable to help them with their request. I don’t often just ignore people though. I at least want to acknowledge their existence in some way. So, I responded to each of them. The dialogue was identical in all three interactions. Here’s how each went down:
Them: “Spare some change?” or “Can you help?” as they shake a cup with change, hoping for more to be dropped in.
Me: (pointing to my throat and shrugging my shoulders) I mouth the following words, “I don’t have a voice. Sorry.”
Them: “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
Their response was equally sincere, caring and genuine.
I acknowledged their presence, their aliveness, their humanity, by demonstrating I heard them, and responding to them, and looking them in the eye. However, what I said didn’t have anything having to do with their request. I went in a completely different direction. Amazingly, so did they. They followed my lead. As if being voiceless has anything to do with sharing a quarter. But I was sincere, passionate and authentic. For just a moment, it wasn’t about them… it was about me.
People want to be led. People want to care about something.
Lesson 3: People will follow where you lead. They will respond to your authenticity and sincerity. People want something to believe in, something they can feel something about, and something that takes them outside of themselves. For that split second, me not having a voice was something different, unfortunate and outside of themselves. I wonder if it gave those three amazing people something to care about, instead of needing to be cared for – for just a split second? ACTION: Find more ways to serve the needs of others. Find ways to contribute, instead of searching for contribution.
I learned some amazing things yesterday when I couldn’t talk. I’m going to experiment with this more – even when I can talk.
I read a novel once where the character lost her voice every year on the same day. I believe it was for a few days that she could not speak and she knew exactly when it would happen. Ever since I read that I wondered what it would be like to have some days of silence like that.
Seems as if you had no choice and you drew lessons from it! That was an interesting exchange with the homeless people. Do you think everyone mimics naturally? Mimicking, or mirroring, I thought was a skill.It seems to require that a person be tuned in, paying attention.
How would your day have gone without a cell phone to aid in communication, I wonder.
Hey Lori! Thanks for the thoughtful comment! And, you could realize what it’s like to ‘have no voice’… give it a try one day. It’s fascinating not only to watch others, but to observe your own behavior and what a struggle it is. Really good way to change things up.
I do think everyone mimics others – mostly unconsciously. It took a while for my roommate to stop whispering. he just naturally mimicked or mirrored what I was doing. However, I think it can be cultivated as a skill, and used in a powerful way. Most do it unconsciously, but if done with awareness, it can be pretty powerful. You’re spot on – you have to be tuned in and paying attention to make it’s power work for you. Otherwise, you’re the follower, not the leader.
Before I started using the cell phone to type what I was wanting to say, it was kind of awkward. He didn’t know what to say, and was clearly uncomfortable with the silence. I was fine – simply sitting and observing – but I could see him struggling with the silence. After I watched a while, I decided to find a way to join in and participate.
So… are you going to try a day of silence and see what happens?