Speaking Up – with Courtesy

My son came home from sixth grade and said, “I HATE art, Mom! It’s the worst class ever.” I was so shocked to hear this, because he has always been a very good artist and has had his work displayed in the Town Hall and at various art functions around town. I tried to get him to explain why the sudden dislike for the subject, but he wouldn’t open up more than this.

For Parent-Teacher Night, I had the opportunity to talk with a variety of teachers. I asked him who I should see. “Just don’t go see Mrs. M., my art teacher,” he said to me. “I HATE her, she is awful.” Of course, I made the decision right then to seek out Mrs. M. at the event and see what was happening. I had in my mind, from my filters about awful teachers, that I would meet this negative person who wasn’t very nice. I waited outside her room and heard her talking with other parents. Instead of what I expected, I found she was an engaging, upbeat, enthusiastic woman. When it was my turn to talk to her, I introduced myself and told her, “My son, who has always loved art, absolutely hates this class and I would like to understand why.” She was completely taken aback and we talked in detail about the class, about my son and about the content of the course. Come to find out that this woman has a deaf ear and the class is over 30 children. When the noise level gets too high, she can’t hear anything, has headaches and generally finds it difficult to function. The students wouldn’t keep it to a dull roar, so she told them “NO TALKING!” at all. Now, my son is a social bug and loves to interact with whoever offers a listening ear. Of course he hates this class – he can’t talk.

When I spoke with my son and explained Mrs. M.’s condition, he felt badly. “Why doesn’t she just tell us this?” he replied. My thought to his question was that if she did explain it to the class, maybe they might understand and be a bit more sympathetic and responsive to her issue! In any event, after I spoke with her, she started treating this class very differently. Now my son enjoys art again and likes the class very much.

What’s happening here? It’s a common occurrence, in my experience, when we don’t understand the five secrets and apply them to ourselves and others. We assume something about someone else. We don’t speak to them, in a courteous manner, to try and understand what’s going on or to explain our experience of them. We stew. We get angry. We end up disliking being around the person altogether. And yet sometimes, if we would just take the time to talk to the person and explain what we need, the other person will respond right away.

Why is it so hard for us, in some cases, to speak up? I think generally we don’t learn how to communicate a negative experience. In my son’s case, he was mortified to find out I had talked to the teacher. “MOM! What if she talks to me about this? Everyone will know you said something!!” As a sixth grader, he doesn’t want it to look like he is letting his mom step in to talk to a teacher – that’s not cool! But he liked the outcome. He likes the fact that she is much more agreeable and pleasant in class.

So maybe it is simply that we don’t want to be identified as the trouble-maker, or the person who brings up an issue. What if people think it is really “all about us” and not the person we are talking about? Maybe some of it is that we haven’t learned to be in touch with what is really bothering us, so we just decide we “hate” that other person. Maybe it is because we haven’t learned how to deliver negative news and we were told, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Whatever our filter and our history, the key is to learn new behavior.

This week, practice being in touch with what triggers you about someone else. Consider what’s happening and whether there is an opportunity to courteously explain your response. Can you address something and change an outcome in a kind and relational way? Try it – you might be able to effect more change than you think possible!