by Suanne Camfield
I recently attended a workshop in which the facilitator had all the elements of a great communicator -she was knowledgeable, passionate, empathetic and fun, and worked the room with ease. More so than wanting to absorb the content, I simply delighted in each moment I spent in her presence.
At the end of the day, as she was giving her concluding remarks, a woman in the audience raised her hand and asked if she could share something with the group. In all honesty, I thought the interruption was a bit disrespectful, if not borderline rude. The speaker's response, however, was one of the most counter-intuitive things I'd ever seen. Not only did she grant the woman's request, she did it with such graceful open-handedness that it left me shaking my head in awe.
"I'll gladly yield the floor to you," she said. And then with a small bow and wave of her arm, like she was welcoming a guest into her home, she stepped aside.
Beautiful, I thought. Absolutely gorgeous.
Let's face it-in a culture that eagerly stakes its territory around position, individuality and achievement, "yielding the floor" is not exactly a phrase that's sweeping the nation. I concede that there are times when holding firm in our convictions is the most courageous thing we can do, but the opportunities to put aside our own agenda for the benefit of others, as it turns out, is pretty limitless. Since the day I watched that speaker yield her floor, I've attempted (and failed) to do it as often as I can in my own life.
Here's just a few ways I've tried:
In my everyday. Taking a half-step back (instead of forward) so the business man who tried to edge me out at the barista can order first anyway. Waiting a few extra seconds to hold the door for the harried woman behind me even though I'm running late myself. Picking up my kid's towel from the bathroom floor even though I've asked him a zillion times to hang it up himself. Mustering a smile for the unfriendly customer service rep who, regardless of my inconvenience, is just trying to get through the day.
In my relationships. Picking up my phone when a friend needs to talk even though it means sacrificing the time I finally carved out just for me; listening openly to my faults, refusing defensiveness and extending forgiveness even when I'm certain I'm "right." Giving those closest to me permission to speak truth in my life when I'd rather amble along pretending my flaws aren't that big of a deal.
In my leadership. Resolving conflict directly and timely instead of grumbling behind closed doors. Asking for constructive feedback (and being ready to receive it) from those on my team and making adjustments accordingly. Accepting my limitations and surrounding myself with others whose strengths are not my own. Championing those who could realistically do my job (perhaps even better than I can do it myself), taking time to develop their gifts and making room for them to lead.
Yielding the floor to others, especially on the important stuff, may feel a bit like shaky territory. But, then again, maybe it should. The more I've practiced it, the more I've learned that these moments-the ones in which I intentionally choose to step aside, (teeth unclenched), wave a welcoming arm and gladly, graciously give permission for others to have the floor in my personal and professional life-is a character-shaping act of humility like few others.
Can you imagine doing it yourself? Next time someone wants to occupy the space that you think is rightfully yours-maybe even the space that you've undoubtedly earned -try to resist your instincts to squeeze a little tighter and instead try repeating these words: I'll gladly yield the floor to you.
Suanne Camfield is a writer, speaker and publicist. She is the blog manager for FullFill, founder of the Redbud Writers Guild and works at InterVarsity Press. Friend her on Facebook or follower her on Twitter @suannecamfield.