There are few words so inadequate in the English language as ‘fine’ and ‘nice’. ‘Nice’ usually occurs as an adjective where is does less damage than ‘fine’.
“What shall I get from the shops?”
“How about some nice bread for lunch?”
“Nice bread? You mean instead of the shitty bread that I usually buy?”
See what I mean? Small redundant little words sneak into our interactions and add no value to the conversation. They seem benign but they somehow give us the feeling we are expressing what we want. It’s not how it’s landing over here.
‘Fine’ is another redundant little word that has a big impact on me in coaching. I hear it most frequently when asking a client how they feel. In the confidential space of a coaching session, my question is genuine and has intent. We are not in Starbucks ordering coffee where the barista probably doesn’t care.
I ask the question in coaching to bring awareness for the client to his or her own inner world. Feelings are information after all. It’s the doorway into deeper understanding.
Where I hear ‘fine’ as a response, it has the impact on me of walking into a glass door I hadn’t seen. It’s the brick wall we build around our emotional world. I feel rejected for a moment.
There might be an argument that protection is a good thing in this crazy and unpredictable world. But my experience shows me clients aren’t just protecting them from the outside world, but also from themselves.
The word ‘fine’ lands with an impact far removed from it’s intent. What the receiver hears is ‘back off’, or ‘I’m not sharing my emotions with you’, or ‘you don’t matter enough for me to tell you’. The message is you are not open for being in relationship with the person standing in front of you.
Sharing how we really, really feel can be scary and is certainly a place of vulnerability. But vulnerability is the very doorway into connection and intimacy that we all seek.
Brene Brown, the shame researcher, puts it beautifully:
“There can be no intimacy — emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy — without vulnerability. One of the reasons there is such an intimacy deficit today is because we don’t know how to be vulnerable. It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need. Vulnerability is a glue that holds intimate relationships together.”
This all starts with a genuine response to the little questions of ‘how are you?’ or ‘how are you feeling?’.
So when the barista asks you how you are doing, you may choose to say fine and I’ll give you a free pass. Coffee shops aren’t always the right place for emotions. But if you want to fundamentally change that interaction and be remembered, share how you feel in one word.
With anyone in your life who you really care about, stop using ‘fine’ immediately. Or at least catch yourself, and offer them a gift of yourself in another word that expresses your emotion in that moment.
Dare to know your own inner world of emotions. Dare to share those with others in the spirit of creating the intimacy and connection you long for.
And now your asking how I am, I’m feeling anxious about a few projects I have, and vulnerable for putting this into a blog on Medium!
(picture from Gratisography.com)