The elderly woman suddenly appeared in my office and darted behind the partition with her hands behind her back and an ear cocked to the doorway. It’s not unusual for people to pop in, nor is it unusual that when they do, I’m right in the middle of something. I glanced up from my computer screen to meet her eyes; the glance held only a bare moment before she looked away.
In the same way, I returned to what I was doing, but left it open for her to talk. I don’t remember what she was talking about, but the next glance I gave her told me that there was something on her mind.
“She makes me feel dumb,” she blurted out. A few sentences later, she elaborated with, “There are times when she’ll just butt right in and take over. She about knocked me down the last time.”
I pushed my chair back and turned to her square. She needed my full attention. It wasn’t until I saw the tiniest tremble cross her lips that I understood just how upset she was. None of her other body language spilled the beans like that quivering lip.
Still, there was more. “I know she’s been here ____ years and I’ve only been back ____ months, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid!”
“You are far from stupid,” and I meant it. No matter how old any of the elderly workers in our office are, none of them can be called stupid. Not by a long shot.
“I know it, I know that, and I don’t like being made to feel stupid.” Now, she was close to tears. She was letting herself show her hurt and anger, just a little.
Do actions speak louder than words? Yes, I believe they do. A few questions for specifics and particulars and she knew that I was looking to understand her. It opened the door for me to give a different perspective on the actions that caused her such hurt.
In a way, her hurt was my fault. I’d been supporting and valuing and applauding the offending woman for weeks. She also needed to feel worthy and capable, and now her strength was shining through. It upset the apple cart a little. I explained that different point of view.
“Do you think she bowls you over because maybe she’s so focused on helping the people that come in?”
Her face relaxed, visibly relaxed, and her eyes widened a bit.
“Yes, I do believe you’re right about that,” she said and smiled. That smile let the rest of the tension out of her shoulders. “I suppose you are right. Hmm.”
Then she looked at me, facing me square on, lifted her chin and said, “Thanks.”
As quickly as she had appeared in my cubicle, she was gone.