It really is that easy to connect with someone

Within a five-minute conversation, I learned that the cashier’s husband passed away five months ago. I said, “Happy Friday. How are you today?”

[Here’s the key part: I really was interested in knowing how she was. I wasn’t looking anywhere except at her. I was focused only on our conversation that I didn’t realize there was another customer behind me.]

She said, “You, too. I’m looking forward to doing things in my world this weekend. Not that I don’t love all of you people. I have young adults at home. 20 something’s. No one wants to cook dinner. I work, too.”

Here’s where the “Yes, and…” of improv and reflective listening (which I learned as a volunteer grief counselor years ago) come into play:

“Ahhh…20 something’s. It’s hard. They want to be young but they’re on their way to being adults.” And, like a miracle, the cashier continued to share tiny bits about her family. She continued as she realized I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t looking anywhere else. I already paid for my coffee but I still wasn’t going anywhere.

Then, it happened…she shared, “It’s been hard on our family. Five months ago, my husband passed away and he was the one who was the cook. And with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes, she said, “Oh and he was a very good cook.”

“Fridays are hard for me,” She continued. “He passed away on a Friday morning.”

Listening helps us open our hearts to others

I gave her reassurance that it’s OK to feel what you feel and not make sense of it. I said, “People will tell you to ‘move on,’ that ‘he is in a better place,’ and that “he is no longer suffering.”

When people say that, they mean well. But, it doesn’t always help. Feeling feelings does help. Being listened to without judgment helps immensely.

I gave her only a few minutes of my time, yet, I feel I gave her more than just a few minutes of time…a listening ear.
You can say what happened this morning was improv:
<> I didn’t know that was going to happen
<> I let the conversation flow
<> A miracle of connection and comfort occurred

The key elements of an ideal improv scene include the players (actors) listening to each other, accepting what the other actors are offering and building upon what they offer, and allowing the scene to unfold.

You don’t have to be a Zen master to be in the moment.                                                                                                                                                      Feel compassion for the other person. Simply be with the other person.
You might think to yourself, “But, just being is really challenging for me.”

Try this the next time you feel you are getting stressed out or wrapped up in your own world:


Choose one person in your day (A stranger or a friend) and simply listen to them.

1. Focus only on what they are talking about
2. Listen for key words that are tugging on their heart-strings
(i.e. ‘Challenging,’ ‘hard,’ ‘rough time,’ ‘working through it.’)
3. When you hear trigger words like that, really listen to what the person is saying around those words and practice reflective listening.

Reflective listening: Hear the emotions and key words the person is expressing. Repeat the word back to them in a way that shows you are listening.
(i.e. “I have young adults/20 something’s at home It’s hard. They want to be young but they’re on their way to being adults.”)

Think about the people in your life

<>Is there misunderstanding or conflict between you?
<>Do you feel as though you are not heard?
<>Do you feel or experience more frustration rather than love or appreciation for that person?

Ultimately, we all want to be heard and valued.

Show the people around you that they matter. Five minutes may change someone’s life.

About the author: —Julie Ostrow is the First-Ever American Laughing Champion and Humor, Laughter, and Improv Coach. She coaches groups and corporations how to use humor, laughter, and improv techniques to improve communication, connection, and creativity.


‘We are the Positive Psychology People’

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