When someone tells you they’re fine, do you believe them?
And when you respond to someone that you’re fine – are you being honest? Is there more to your story, or do you simply not like to share how you’re feeling?
Yes, you can tell, I’m suspicious about the word fine.
As an acronym, I was once told that FINE really means: F*d-up, insecure, neurotic and emotional. I believed this evolved from the 1980s AA and ACOA recovery movement, and it makes me smile. Someone disliked the word as much as I do!
Actually, I think FINE isn’t too emotional, but rather devoid of the emotional connection and sharing that is essential to our personal and professional success.
What we’re talking about is the need for the EQ skill of Interpersonal Relationships. The ability to connect generously with others, to be connected to others, to give and receive trust and warmth while maintaining healthy boundaries.
Since we can pretty much agree that up to 85% of job success is correlated with our relationship skills, I think we can also agree that being fine will not get us there.
In fact, what I hear when I speak with clients, colleagues and friends is a mixture of gratitude and grief. And I feel the same way.
Lately, I begin my virtual workshops with the check-in question: What’s one thing that brings you a joyous sense of control in this time when so much is out of our control?
The responses are individually and collectively inspirational and uplifting. Gardening, no commute, walking with family and neighbors, outdoor or garage tea with the neighbors, playing the piano, writing, drawing, being home, listening to pod casts, catching up with family and old friends.
Most of my clients are not on the front line. They have their health and so far everyone close in their life is well enough.
Yet, even so, there’s sadness and grief, too. For all the people who are not well. For the injustice in the system. For the many things that will never be again. For the uncertainty of how to respond next and the implications for staff, students, patients and colleagues. Employees furloughed or more. A moment, months or perhaps a year in time that is irreplaceable and will never happen as hoped or imagined.
But grief does not negate the gratitude. Living with our feelings is not an either or situation.
Pema Chodren writes in When Things Fall Apart that to be fully alive and human is to be continually thrown out of the nest. And in that place, beyond the illusion of perfection and control, is where we meet in wholeness together.
When we wake up, we can live fully without seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, without re-creating ourselves when we fall apart. We can let ourselves feel emotions as hot or cold, vibrating or smooth, instead of using our emotions to keep ourselves ignorant or dumb. We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest…Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life. (p.72)
Here is a wonderful article that inspired me to think about the limitations of the word fine: Be a Colleague That Others Can Confide. The authors offer practical advice to strengthen trust with one another.
So how do we help others move beyond fine to a richer, fuller connection together?
Ask them more than once how they’re doing. Invite engagement with neutral and more specific questions about their weekend, kids, pets, friends and family.
And most importantly, model vulnerability yourself. Share your own pleasant and unpleasant feelings. Gratitude and grief. It’s all part of being alive.
There are some practical things you can do, too, to further invite engagement in your team meetings. Think of it like your family dinner table, where you have a behavioral agreement:
- Meet weekly (no less). Start and end on time, every time. If you’re going to run over, state how long and ask for permission. Then stick to your agreement.
- Sandwich content between connection, so Connection-Content-Connection. (Read Stay Strong! Show Your Emotions)
- Imagine you have a virtual talking stick. Assign a moderator to identify when someone raises their hand to speak. And agree on a talking limit per person. Yup, it really works and helps everyone feel safer and heard. (Read Baked or Half-Baked Cake)
You want your meetings to provide a safe container so people can show up and be real. And you want your interpersonal relationships to equally invite and encourage safety and trust.
So, please, let’s not be fine together. Let’s be real. Let’s explore and support the richness and reward of being fully human together.