Guest post by Rob Peck,
Judy Peck taught me (mainly by modeling) the efficacy of a few short phrases to instill trust, and inspire loyalty. To be fair, some of the following I learned from my old man, Art Peck- who thankfully is still alive and kicking, and continuing my education. And while I’m at it, a special shout out to my sister, Wendy- who is literally and figuratively the shining image of her beautiful mother.
Ok, now that I’ve ensured familial harmony, here’s my best attempt to honor Judy’s legacy (and give thanks for how much its helped me to make, and keep, lifelong, character expanding, heart deepening, “all weather friends” of my own. Amen)
When a friend is in need, a wise way to be a friend in deed is to make fewer comments and ask more questions. Two simple, but helpful ones are “What’s going on?” and “What are your concerns?” Both are short and open ended. Neither assumes, nor implies, that there’s a major problem or any big issue. Each of which can be off-putting, especially if received from the standpoint that you consider something seriously awry, and judgments are being made.
The goal in asking a simple straightforward “so what’s happening?” opening question is to make it easy for the friend to set the table, and put out as many “plates” as they think they’ll need. This lets them lay it out in their own terms, and trust you’re just looking to get a full understanding.
One of my mom’s signature phrases is three little words I’ve written several long stories about: “Take your time.” Whenever she said that to me as her son, it was heartening to feel that I had a parent who was a patient ally. (Now a father, I try to pay it forward to my daughter, Jazz.)
“Take your time” was Judy’s code for I’m here for you, and I’m all ears. The generosity of her undivided, un-rushed, attention was like rocket fuel for my self awareness. Her loving listening encouraged reflection, and helped me gather my thoughts, and glean insight. So next time you’re hearing a friend out, and you sense they’re searching for clarity, lean in and offer three little words: “Take your time”.
The longer and better you listen, the more likely they’ll ask for your input. Judy always prefaced hers by restating what she’d identified as core concerns (and double checking to be sure she had them right). My mom knew the value of reflective listening, and wanted to ensure she’d heard me correctly. She had found out first hand from her Parenting Effectiveness Training Programs, that feedback is futile if the recipient doesn’t first feel seen and understood. A good shorthand phrase for this is “Validate before you advocate.”
Once Judy received reassurance that she was on the right track, she prefaced her advocacy with another simple three word phrase- “My best guess”. It was her way of staying humble, and honestly acknowledging that everything she was about to share were opinions, not facts. A guess is a glimpse of the territory. By not coming on like we’re an expert with a detailed, topographical map, we ensure our friend feels they’re on even ground.
“My best guess” signals from the get-go that this is just one person’s perspective. It’s my read on the situation, not a perspicacious, nine point, treatment program. By guessing, rather than prescribing, you invite your friend to follow your thoughts without worrying where they lead. You’re laying out your assessment, with no onus of agreement.
The way my mom did it, I felt like it was guesswork, not judgment, admonition, or advice. When I pull it off with my daughter it’s a recipe for creative brainstorming. The concern is the mystery, and we’re co-sleuths gathering clues. Ideally she’s the one who discovers the solution. When I do it with my friends, it fosters shared exploration, and widens their view. Both of which yield broader understandings, deeper insights, and a bigger picture; along with a pragmatic list of priorities and next steps. (It’s also great prep for a Presidential Debate!)
Just when I thought we were through, Judy had one last, deceptively simple question: “Is there more?” Invariably there was, and often it helped me mine the most important diamond. But that’s for another time.