Aye Can: the shoulds, the coulds, and Gloria Steinem’s jacket

Gloria Steinem

Coach Lindy Irving kicks off a new regular series by bloggers, Practically +ve

“That’s a really nice jacket. Where did you get it?”

On the face of it, this is a fairly innocuous question that most women have asked at one time or another. But when the person wearing the nice jacket is none other than Gloria Steinem, writer, journalist, political activist and the quintessential poster girl for worldwide feminism – and more accustomed to questions such as “What would you say to people who cite the advances made by women as proof that society is now comfortable with women in power?” than she is about her fashion choices – it perhaps makes things a wee bit awkward.

However, that’s exactly what happened when Gloria Steinem was giving a book signing in Australia recently and my daughter, who is a huge fan, went along. Now I should say that my daughter is quite a smart cookie. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology & sociology, a masters from the University of Edinburgh, and is a senior consultant for one of the top accountancy firms in the world.

However, when her turn in the queue came, she had spent so much time overthinking what she thought she should say, that she blurted out the first thing that came into her head: “That’s a really nice jacket. Where did you get it?”

And as she stood there wishing the ground would open up and swallow her for being the person who asked Gloria Steinem the most ridiculous question ever, she heard the words “I should’ve said something different!” playing over and over in her head, and then spent the next few days thinking about all the smart things she should have asked instead.

So, what should you do if something like this happens to you?

  1. Well firstly let’s address that word should. Whenever we use the word should, we’re effectively saying we’ve done something wrong. “I should have spoken up in the meeting”, “I should have worn a different outfit”, “I should have studied more.” The word should is full of negative energy and because here it’s in the past tense, it keeps our focus on something that has already passed and which we can’t change. And this makes it as useful to us as a chocolate teapot. Instead, what we can do is try using the word could in its place. So “Next time I could try speaking up in the meeting” or “I could try wearing something more comfortable next time” or “For my next exam, I could try making more time for study.” Unlike miserable should, the word could is full of positive energy, as well as possibilities, and it puts you firmly in control.
  1. Secondly, as a coach, I know from many of my clients that this is not an unfamiliar experience for many women. In fact, most if not all of us have been in the situation where we’ve said something and then immediately thought “Oh no, why did I say that?!” or, perhaps more accurately… “WTF was I thinking when I said that?!” And so, if you do find yourself in this situation, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid, or idiotic or a moron. It just means you are a perfectly normal human being trying to navigate the often complicated world of communication. Think about going to a party full of strangers, or walking into a networking event for the first time. This can be a terrifying experience for many people, and although the world of film and TV shows characters strolling into similar situations full of confidence and delivering some brilliant opening line…real life is not like that. We stumble, we stutter, we slip up. And then…
  1. We learn from it. Every experience we have in life is a learning opportunity if we allow it to be. So, instead of focusing on what we think we did or said wrong, which only makes us feel worse, we instead change the focus on to what we could do better the next time. This immediately puts us in control and makes us feel as if the situation is not all bad. Perhaps we could have a short ‘elevator speech’ ready or we use a simple line such as “Hi, I’m Lindy and I’m new at this.” A short sentence such as this is often a great ice-breaker and a way of allowing others to take control of the conversation, and give you a chance to just observe goings on.

So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where you can’t think of something witty or clever to say, just take a deep breath and go for it, because the truth is that when my daughter had time to look back on the experience, and ask herself what she could have done differently, she realised that she didn’t have any burning questions she wanted to ask Gloria Steinem…she just wanted her book signed.

Besides which…. I’m told it was a really nice jacket.

Lindy Irving is an empowerment coach for women based in central Scotland, and offers one-to-one coaching, workshops and speaking events. For more coaching tips and videos please visit www.lindyirving.com

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