How To Talk to…People
A beautiful essay that was written a few years ago has been making rounds on the Internet again lately. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth taking a few minutes right now: How to Talk to Little Girls. As someone who was once a little girl myself and is now an adoring mother of my own little girl, this essay strikes a very personal chord. The big message is this — the topics we bring up, the questions we ask, and the little things we notice about every little girl we interact with contribute to the way she sees the world around her…and her place in it. Our words and actions send signals about what matters — a danger zone when the loudest words relate to being cute/beautiful/ruffled/princess-y. Whether we mean it or not, by calling out a little girl’s haircut instead of the book she’s carrying, we’re telling her that the way she looks is more important than what she’s able to learn and do.
I bring this up because I think this is a simple lesson that extends beyond the way we treat little girls. In every relationship — and especially in new ones — it’s important to think twice about the things we notice, remark about, praise, and focus conversations around. I find this particularly difficult when meeting new people. It’s sometimes easier to ask the familiar question — “so, what do you do?” — than it is to ask a more non-traditional one like “what did you do today?” or “what are you working on these days?” It’s more comfortable to say “wow, you’re a fast runner” than it is to say something like “wow, I see you working out in the gym every morning…I’m so impressed with your commitment.” It’s sometimes more natural to praise the product than the process. But at the end of the day, the process is often the most interesting part.