That first winter in their new house, they pored over seed catalogues and vegetable garden blogs. She had long dreamed of growing her own food and he joined in with enthusiasm. Early the next spring, they donned boots and got their hands dirty. His stamina came in handy to double dig the new beds, and he built trellis and a small greenhouse where she nurtured her seedlings.
The days lengthened. She planted and dreamed of serried rows of preserve jars, like her grandma had in the old pantry. Each jar held jewelled treasures of garnet red beetroot, opalescent baby onions with satellites of red and black peppercorns, or jade green tomato chutney concealing an unexpected hit of spice. Hard-won bounty stood guard against an uncertain winter and preserves meant security.
She hardly noticed ingrained dirt under her nails, so caught up in the promise of harvest that she fell exhausted into bed after long days weeding and grafting. She didn’t mind that he spent most of his time on his phone or at the computer even when the sun shone. They were a team, growing together.
The garden blossomed under her loving care. By the time the inevitable tomato and zucchini glut came around he was gone, in search of indoor pursuits with someone who cared about her manicure. She was left with far too much produce to eat alone or give away.
As the nights drew in again she stood over a hot stove, stirring and seasoning her pickles with salt tears and the bitter fruit of regret.
I’ve trained myself to illuminate the things in my personality that are likeable and to hide and protect the things that are less likeable. – Will Smith
Introvert or extrovert, you’re a social creature.
You have to interact with other humans in groups or one-to-one, whether you like it or not. You might be able to avoid parties and skip the small talk, but few of us live in total isolation from others.
When interacting with colleagues, employees, or new acquaintances in a group setting, you want to make a good impression and feel more comfortable with these relationships. Here are 11 ways to show your likeable side.
A genuine smile
A smile is the universal welcome. – Max Eastman
A warm smile isn’t just attractive, it encourages the other person to smile back. Smiling can help you feel better and is a great start to a conversation. You are inclined to trust a smiling person more so use that to your advantage.
Use their name
Words have meaning and names have power. – Unknown
Most of us complain that remembering names gets harder over time. Yet addressing someone by name tells them that you find them important. Focus on the name, repeat it, and link it to something else. When first introduced, shake hands if appropriate and repeat the name as in, “Hello, nice to meet you, John.” Focus on receiving the information. Try creating an association in your mind between the name and the person that helps recall. For example Jack = tall, Sarah = glasses. You can find more tips on remembering names here.
Be an active listener
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. – Ernest Hemingway
Active listening is a set of actions that makes the person feel heard. It means paying attention and then reflecting what you heard. Give nonverbal cues such as nodding and smiling, then summarise what was said. This shows you’re listening and makes the other person feel important.
Recall earlier conversations
Stop and listen. The story is everywhere. – Thomas Lloyd Qualls
Because you remember Anne’s name and listened when she mentioned she was training for a 5K, the next time you meet ask her how the race went. Linking past and present is essential in building long-term relationships, whether closer (your partner’s friend) or more distant ( a co-worker you see daily.)
Ask questions and hear the answer
There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing. – G. K. Chesterton
Most people like to talk about themselves, so let them. Ask about their interests or activities and actually listen before responding. Ask a followup question that allows them to reveal a little of themselves. For example, “So how did it feel to complete your first 5K?”
Resist the urge to one-up people. You can talk about your half-marathon or trip of a lifetime another day. Save it for when you’re asked directly.
Give sincere compliments and praise
Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. – Sam Walton
We all love genuine praise. You’ll gain likeability as a boss or manager if you praise good work, like delivering on time or under budget. A few words will go a long way. Creatives in particular often doubt their work, and pointing out something you liked in a project gives much-needed validation. Give what you’d like to receive because karma is real.
But we can all sniff out fake praise. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
Be tactful with criticism
Shout praise and whisper criticism. – Don Meyer
It might be your job to bring up areas for improvement. Offer suggestions without attacking the person. You are focusing on the work, not the character of the worker.
Don’t rush the process and give it some thought beforehand, so that you come up with a considered response.
State the issue in neutral language as you see it and allow them to respond. Define the desired outcome and discuss how you can support the person to work towards it. Remember to acknowledge improvement.
Ask, don’t give orders
In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way. – Tina Fey
Maybe you are the boss, but most people hate to be ordered around. Saying please and thank you doesn’t make you appear weak. Be clear about your request. If you need the report by Thursday 10 am, say so.
Don’t expect people to read your mind and then get angry when they didn’t deliver – that’s manipulative and a fast track to being disliked.
The cure is as simple as this: Live your words and live your belief system. – Shannon L. Alder
Others might get away with insincerity with some people some of the time, but most of us can spot it – so why would you want to be insincere? Be your genuine self with everyone. You don’t have to share every facet of your personality, but don’t change for every person you meet because fake people aren’t likeable. Find what works for you and stick with it.
Ask for advice
Ask better questions. Get better answers. – Richie Norton
Asking for advice shows that you’re humble enough to seek help, and it flatters the person asked as it shows they have greater knowledge than you. You win twice because you gain information and make the person feel good about themselves.
One rule; be respectful. Don’t interrogate or expect detailed professional advice for free. Nobody likes to be used for what they know.
Learn to tell stories
A thrilling story can be dull if told badly, but even the most mundane event can be elevated into a tale of epic scale by a good storyteller. – Johnny Rich
Likeable people can tell stories well. Whether it’s an account of their holiday or a summary of their project, they know what they want to convey. Practice makes perfect here. Concentrate on your point and don’t ramble. Observe your audience’s reaction so that you can do better next time.
Not A Popularity Contest
It is better to be likable than to be talented. – Utah Phillips
Popular is not necessarily the same as likeable. If you prefer to connect with small numbers of people, you can still be likeable and memorable. The essence of likability is paying attention to the person in front of you. As Keanu Reeves says, the simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.
Be intentional in social situations. Pay attention, focus on the other person, treat them with respect, and watch your connections grow to the next level.
It’s always been considered bad luck to make your own wedding dress. It implies a life of want if you can’t outsource such an important task, or maybe a life of never-ending work. That means a steady procession of happy brides-to-be in my bridal shop. These days I leave the actual stitching to my dedicated and skilful seamstresses. I prefer to interact with my customers and bask in their excited energy, spilled without any thought to the cost.
Being married isn’t essential in this business, but it definitely helps. My engagement ring is not just a symbol of love, it’s one and a half carats of trust. Brides love to buy their wedding dress from someone who understands their mindset after all. And the man who gave me his promise is six feet of wonderful who loves me dearly. Sometimes I pinch myself, because how did I get so lucky?
My last customer of the day is radiant. Accompanied by her mother, Rosalind wants only the best. They haven’t set a date yet but she can’t wait to start looking. I pull eight gowns and she looks truly wonderful in all of them.
While Rosalind gets dressed her mother and I chat, the usual about luck and love and soulmates. A photo of them smiling together is proudly produced. Rosalind’s mother wipes away happy tears. Look, they’re made for each other. I look, and I can’t breathe. I lock and bolt the door after they’re gone but it’s too late.
Somewhere along the line, I missed something.
The day I leave, I pack everything except my shears. I take great care of my dressmaking tools even though I don’t use them often, because keeping a sharp edge is essential to a clean cut. His jackets will look normal at first glance, until he pulls them and finds sleeves removed and linings slashed.
When I reach the last one, his favourite Italian wool suit, I can’t bring myself to vandalise its exquisite workmanship. I know how much work it takes to construct something so beautiful. Instead I leave parting gifts; my wedding ring on the counter – and raw eggs smashed in each of the suit pockets.
We shared everything. Soon he too will discover something rotten hiding in the dark.
I know you all are busy
life gets more complex every day
and you just don’t have time
for hardly anything
so don’t worry
you don’t need to check on me
I know you’re minding your business
and someone else will do it, right?
Someone else with more time
and more resources
and while everyone’s busy
leaving it up to someone else
I slip through the cracks of absent smiles
fade into the rear view mirror as life moves on
don’t worry, okay?
when I sink
I’ll hardly make a ripple
and leave nothing behind
and perhaps someone will say
Life moves on you’ll soon forget
those who fall behind
and are left out of mind
Here’s a new day
it really doesn’t matter because
I’m already gone
Despite everything, Jo couldn’t help but feel excited. She’d come to the amusement park with four friends, hoping to forget about Ben. So far it was working, though she missed having Molly by her side to share inside jokes and angry rants about her ex. They giggled through the haunted house and ate way too many sugary treats. She even won a bright blue bear at the shooting range all by herself.
When they reached the front of the line for the Ferris wheel, Jo hung back at first. Then she swallowed hard, took a deep breath and got into the last car. She should be strong enough to conquer her fear.
The car rose and she was too fascinated watching the people below to remember she was alone. Her friends were laughing, paired off in the cars ahead. Jo laughed too, until she spotted them. Far below Ben and Molly walked hand in hand, then stopped to share a lingering kiss. Right out in the open, where anyone could see. Like they hadn’t a care in the world.
Jo stared down at the couple, her knuckles white around soft blue fur. Her heart slipped its moorings and fell to earth. From such a height, it was bound to shatter.
Thanks for reading! Join my email list for more and get your free guide to reclaiming creativity.
Above, only sullen nimbus grey.
My left hand grasps at shadows
right hand trapped by work’s iron fist
behind, a thousand tiny ties bound to the past
below, soul-sucking mud swallows every step
hateful reality burns down my dreams.
But you say, keep going
I’m doing great, so tell me
will I see the sun again
We walked hard roads together
leaning on each other in bad times
laughing side by side in good times
we didn’t know our lines would run parallel
only for so long.
A tiny shift
a tiny space
the lines diverging
and I try
try to hold on
we are seen and we are known
we are something to each other
not easily found, I thought.
But since I set my compass to wider horizons
you dig at me with your discomfort
scratch me with your disapproval.
And I try
try to hold on
I will miss you too
your sarcasm and tears
your perspective and your fears
the way we huddled together for warmth
long into dark nights.
But with every angry jibe
the chasm grew, so
I placed you tenderly behind a shield of glass
raised for my own protection
seen, not felt
cry if you must
and don’t forget
I love you even as
you shrink in my rear view mirror.
I should be looking forward
and I try
try to hold on
time is the great separator.
Almost beyond touching distance
yet it still hurts.
I wish you well
Ethan looked around furtively, making sure he was alone. There was no sign of Dalia but his girlfriend could sneak up on him like some kind of ninja when she wanted, and he was in no mood for another fight.
“I’ll wash up,” he called out.
Her muffled reply came from the bedroom. “Thanks babe.”
There was really nowhere to hide in their rented flat. They’d agreed it was fine for a start, even though it was more like one and a half bedrooms than two. But three years later their future was still on hold until they could save enough for a deposit on a place of their own. How did people manage without a big salary or generous parents?
He never got used to the disappointment but he couldn’t give up hope either. With a sigh he tore the scratch card into tiny pieces and dropped them into the bin, before scraping the leftovers from his plate on top. Maybe next time.
Monday came much too soon. Even worse, he had another packed lunch instead of something tasty from the sandwich truck like everyone else. Bills were increasing and his next review was months away. There was no chance of Dalia getting a pay rise either. None of this made his sad ham sandwich and own brand crisps look any more appetising. He sighed.
“Lunch al desko again?”
Ethan looked up at the familiar face of his colleague. “Yeah. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good and all that.”
“I get it.” Anna looked around, then stood closer. “I’m popping out. D’you want your usual?”
“Don’t know, things are tight.” Ethan couldn’t look Anna in the eye, couldn’t explain he wanted – no, needed this and there seemed no other way to do it. “Only have five.”
Anna murmured, “No worries, I’m short this month as well. Wanna split?”
Ethan risked a glance and found Anna was smiling. She knew where he was coming from. He extended his hand and they shook solemnly.
“Fifty fifty. It’s a deal.”
At two o’clock Anna rushed up to his desk, pulling on her coat.
“I gotta go, Jason just threw up all over the childminder.” She grimaced and dropped the card on his keyboard. “Not what I need. Hope you have better luck.”
“Thanks, hope he’s okay,” he called after her. He slipped the card into his wallet and got back to work. There was no way he’d risk his manager catching him slacking. He needed that promotion.
That evening Ethan slumped on the sofa after sliding a frozen shepherd’s pie into the oven. He rolled his tense shoulders but it didn’t help. Exercise would help, but his gym membership was long gone and he loathed running, no matter how evangelical his friends were about it. He sat up then, remembering the scratch card. He’d be over the inevitable disappointment before Dalia got home. The timing was perfect.
He was still sitting when he heard her key in the door.
“Hey. You’re a bit late, everything okay?”
Dalia shrugged. “Road works, bus was late, blah blah I’m over it.” She dropped her bag on the table like always and kicked off her shoes. “Is that dinner I smell?”
“Might be a bit overdone, but anyway.”
“As long as it’s edible, I don’t mind.”
Ethan brought the plates over, but could only play with his food while Dalia cleared her plate. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Drinking on a Monday, was it that bad?” She raised one eyebrow, and Ethan tried to smile back.
“No, no, things were pretty routine, mostly. I’ll open a bottle of wine—”
“What’s got into you tonight? Something happen at work?” Dalia sat up straight, brow creased in worry.
Ethan fumbled with the corkscrew as his stomach lurched. He needed to calm down.
“Ethan, stop. I don’t want wine, talk to me.”
He put down the corkscrew and bottle and came out of the kitchen to resume his seat opposite. “Sorry.”
“Ethan?” Dalia’s eyes were wide. “Tell me.”
“I know you don’t approve, but hear me out. I wanted – it’s impossible isn’t it, trying to save up—”
“Please, just listen. We’re doing everything we can, yeah, packed lunches and buses and me cycling to work in the summer so I only play once a week, and then today this happened.” He pulled the scratch card out of his pocket and pushed it across the table with a shaky hand.
“Scratch cards? Bloody scratch cards?” She flushed and raised her voice. “You know how I feel about gambling and what it did to my family. How could you?”
“Dalia please look at it.”
She snatched it up and glanced at it. Then her mouth fell open. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Ethan came to stand behind her. He pointed at the numbers. “It’s real.”
“Four M? What’s that mean?”
He whispered in her ear. “It means we won the jackpot. Me and Anna, we share four million pounds.”
Ethan wanted to scream his good news but he managed to control his voice. “I work with her, she bought the ticket. It’s a ten pound game for the big prize so we went halves.” He smiled down at Dalia but she didn’t respond. Probably in shock – he’d felt the same when he scratched off the last panel, then stared in disbelief for forty minutes.
“Say something sweetheart. We won!”
“I – it’s unbelievable. Are you – I don’t want – are you sure, Ethan. Don’t get my hopes up—”
“I’m sure, as sure as I’ve ever been. This is it, everything we ever wanted, we can have. A house, a car, anything.”
Dalia squealed and when she stood up Ethan scooped her into his arms, laughing and kissing away her tears. “We won!”
He was elated, caught up by possibility and dreams of their future as they punched the air and danced round the living room before collapsing on the sofa.
“So am I forgiven for the scratch card?” Laughter bubbled from his chest. He felt light as air and crazy but in a good way.
“Does she know?”
“No, I wanted to tell you first of course.”
“Okay. And are you in a proper syndicate?” Dalia’s tone shifted to something more serious.
“Nothing formal, we agreed to split it. Why?”
“Well it’s your card isn’t it? So you’re the winner. You don’t have to say how much you won.”
“But I agreed. She paid half, so we split it equally.” He spoke slowly, his joy leaking away under Dalia’s stare.
“No legal agreement. She’ll never know.”
Ethan shook his head. “We agreed.”
Dalia scoffed. “Agreed? This is our future we’re talking about. Who is she to you anyway?”
Ethan stood and started to pace. He had to make Dalia understand and he couldn’t see the problem. “She’s a colleague, that’s all. Since I’m eating packed lunches I don’t get to the shops, so she buys my tickets.”
“How long?” Dalia snapped, her eyes cold.
“How long what?” Things were spinning out of control and he couldn’t keep up.
“How long have you been lying to me, buying tickets you know I don’t approve of with money we don’t have with some woman—”
“Can you hear yourself? Isn’t two million enough?”
“Not when you’re giving the other two to another woman. It’s the principle.”
Ethan backed away from Dalia where she sat rigid on the sofa.
“Principle. Right.” He picked up the winning card and placed it in his pocket. “No legal agreement, you say. Well we’ve got no legal agreement, have we? Three years watching every penny, eating cheap food, drinking cheap beer, all because I believed in a better future with you.”
Fear bloomed on Dalia’s face. “Ethan, I—”
“You know what, I’m glad we had this chat. I’m glad I figured you out.” Anger burned steady in his chest and he watched Dalia’s growing agitation with detachment. This person was a stranger.
“Just give her like half a million, anybody would be happy with that. Ethan, please.” She started towards him but he held up his hand. He looked past her tears and shocked expression, and he didn’t like what lay beneath.
“Anybody but you. I wonder what would be enough for you. I gave her my word and it’s the right thing to do for God’s sake. It’ll change her life too and she deserves that.” He slipped on his jacket and shoes.
“She shared her little win with me you know. That time I said I got a bonus from work, well it was a scratch win and I put it all in our savings account, like we agreed. Because I’m honest all the time, not just when it suits me.”
“Ethan don’t go, please I’m sorry I didn’t mean it.” Tears streamed down her face and she reached towards him but he moved past her. “Okay we’ll split it,” she wailed.
He paused at the door with his keys in hand.
“I used to think you were my better half. Show people some zeroes and you find out what they’re really made of.”
Being offended doesn’t, by itself, make me right. Garon Whited
Are you easily offended?
Do any of the following sound familiar?
How can X group hold Y opinion that’s *obviously* wrong?
How dare he look at me like that?
She hasn’t said anything but I’m already upset because people like her all hate people like me.
We live in a world where people take offence at just about anything, whether important or trivial.
Whole industries are built around us paying attention to events and people that have no direct bearing on our lives.
We’ve been convinced not only that all our opinions matter a great deal, but also that we must express them — loudly and with increasing venom.
Everyone’s shouting, but few are listening.
This means that everyone is capable of both giving and taking offence.
Giving it is framed as exercising free speech without being responsible for its effects.
Taking it means being accused of being oversensitive, unable to take a joke, a snowflake. And then there’s another chance to become offended or hurt. It’s like an endless game of tennis with pain as the score.
There are ways to navigate this minefield and survive.
Different And Equal
In essence, you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization. In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same. Eckhart Tolle
Freedom of speech is a defining feature of democracies. This right belongs to everyone, especially those who disagree with you.
Your first thoughts on a matter reflect deeply held beliefs and prejudices which often go back to your family of origin. They’re tied to triggers and first impressions, allowing the brain to make snap judgements. These can be reinforced by schooling and media and are an automatic response that is barely examined.
Your second thoughts might agree with first thoughts, or they might differ. These are the beliefs you have formed after considering your first thoughts in the light of experience and new information. They need time and repetition to become automatic and overwrite first thoughts.
You’re free to speak, but you should wait before exercising that right.
By holding your tongue, you gain the chance to make a more considered response, one that shows a more mature personality. Suspend judgement and think, then respond.
You’re also free not to speak. It’s always an option to be silent in some circumstances.
The right to speak does not mean that others must listen. You can respectfully agree to disagree and move on. Also, use mute and block on social media to exclude some voices that routinely disturb you.
You can argue this leads to smaller echo chambers without dissenting voices, but social media lacks the nuance for reasoned debate, especially in these highly politicised times. Reduce contact with people who cause friction in your life.
More Than Stars
Exaggerated sensitiveness is an expression of the feeling of inferiority. Alfred Adler
In a world of starred reviews and comparison websites, we all want to be at least four out of five. In extremes, hearing the equivalent of one star can bring us to tears and/or aggression depending on whether the anger is directed internally or externally.
If you can’t take any criticism, take a step back. Since none of us is perfect and we know it, anyone who touches on an insecurity is immediately judged hostile. But there may be information you can use if you examine what’s being said to find a core of truth, separate from the emotional hit.
Discount personal vitriol and look at your behaviour.
Could you change how you do something?
Do you need to change, but have been resisting it?
Are you angry about being caught out?
Own your feedback, do the work, and nobody will be able to goad you in that way again.
Their Opinion Is Not Your Mirror
People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good. Mark Manson
You are not someone’s opinion — including yours. You’re much more than that. Most times, expressed opinion reflects its holder and not its target. We see the world as we are.
So, sidestep the opinion. Ignore it. Refuse to engage in a fight to see who can offend and be offended more. Most of us have enough baggage of our own without taking on other people’s insecurities as well.
The Centre of the Universe
One who enjoys finding errors will then start creating errors to find. Criss Jami, Killosophy
You probably know someone who has a criticism for everything and is happy to share it. They may dress it up as advice or concern. Either way, they’re right and everyone else needs to be told which ways they’re wrong.
If you find yourself getting angry about a celebrity’s choices or something on TV on a regular basis, you’re spreading your circle of influence too wide. You aren’t the centre of any universe except your own, and that’s the only place you can make actual changes.
That woman’s plastic surgery or that man’s choice of partner do not require your input, and you can divert the emotional energy into your own life. Let entertainment be just that, and sidestep the negative vibe of constant gossip.
Often, you use misplaced moral outrage to avoid working on your own issues. Social media is full of virtue signalling where people are conspicuously and publicly offended to score social points but achieve nothing. Be careful where you place your attention.
Embrace Imperfection — Even Yours
Remember you don’t own people, let them decide, choose and live. There is no inferiority and superiority; it is just your crazy imagination. M.F. Moonzajer
When we recognise our own flaws in others, we reject them — and usually the person too. The inability to forgive ourselves first is the root of much sensitivity. We hand out punishment for the flaw in any way available, whether verbal attacks or online hate.
Ask yourself why this person has made their statement or action. Consider reasons that don’t involve you directly. It’s often not about you, even if it’s directed at you.
Then consider if they’re acting on their first thoughts. Give them the benefit of the doubt at first, because we all need to learn to wait for our second thoughts, the ones that more fully align with our principles and experience. Be civil because that’s the kind of person you are.
Ask yourself if you’re guilty of the fault you find in others. It may offend you because it’s close to home, whether it’s a self-indulgence you deny yourself or a desire you’ve been taught to suppress.
If they are deliberately offensive, ignore the chance to correct themselves, or escalate, then it’s time to walk away. They have more growing to do, but it’s not your job to teach them.
For example, in common with most female physicians I’ve been addressed as Nurse too many times to count. Nothing wrong with nurse, it’s just not my title. A polite correction is usually enough. But if a patient keeps using that title in a mocking tone, alluding to “real” doctors and positive discrimination repeatedly, they show that they’re hoping to offend. And make no mistake, I am irritated.
But I don’t explain myself, apologise for not being what they expect, or otherwise engage except to get the job done. Their projection of issues with perceived inferiority or authority aren’t my concern. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Never wrestle with a pig because you get dirty — and the pig likes it.”
If you accept your imperfection and that of others, paradoxically you are less fragile. Nobody can use your flaws to crack you open and goad you into helping them do it.
Let It Go
When you’re attached to something, whether through love or hate, you give it an importance it doesn’t have. Marty Rubin
Some people hold tight to their negative emotions. They cradle them and feed them with their attention until they are defined by them. They become known for their thin skin or loud outrage on certain subjects. They have missed the truth.
Emotions are something you have, not something you are.
Other people’s emotions are not your responsibility, but you should follow the golden rule: do as you would be done by. This alone will help because it’s impossible to never offend anyone.
Strengthened by self-acceptance, tempered by empathy, and equipped with rational thinking, you can step back from constantly feeling offended or overly sensitive. You can observe those feelings and let them go. And you can make real choices about your future behaviour without either denying your feelings or allowing them to dictate unthinking behaviour.
So next time you find yourself getting worked up by something, ask yourself is this about me?
If it’s not about you, let it go. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything, nor do you have to attend every fight you’re invited to.
If it is about you, do something. Work on your blind spots and weaknesses, or work to make needed change in the world around you.