At a holiday party put on by the management of my apartment building, I met a very nice lady named Mayra, who was in a wheelchair.
When she told me that she’s become a major user of drive-throughs, I responded, “What a great idea for those with disabilities!” Then I suddenly realized that my word choice could be offensive. “Oh, God. Is that the right word … disabilities?”
She smiled and nodded her head, as if to say “no big deal.”
“I mean, we all have disabilities,” I continued. “Mine is my mouth.”
Awkward moments like this are bound to happen, particularly if we’re willing to be vulnerable and to ask the questions that allow us to establish more meaningful connections with people who are different from us.
In our politically-correct society, we’re all sensitive to the possibility of offending someone. So, we often say nothing at all and just ignore the differences as much as possible. Doing so, of course, robs us of the opportunity to benefit from our differences.
It’s not our choice of words or topics, but the intention behind our words, that makes the difference. When that intention is purely an authentic desire to learn more about others, most people understand that you’re not trying to be racist, sexist, bigoted, etc. Fortunately, Mayra understood that my intention was to connect with her, not to offend her, and we have become terrific friends.
Yes, it’s important to think before we speak. But to some degree, we also need to trust that our intentions speak louder than our words. And if your motives are pure, people will hear that loud and clear.
Keeping it simple,
Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations, Hidden Heroes and Power Suck.