Written by Liz Swanson, Assistant Director, Professional Education Services

Have you ever had a situation where someone helped you think a little differently about a problem? I hate to admit this, but this happened to me last week.

I was working the registration table for the ICAHN Opioid Conference. The nametags were arranged in trays, holding them up and making it easy for myself and participants to grab nametags as they entered the meeting. Sitting behind the table the names were laid out alphabetically right to left.  When I would reach to find someone’s name, I kept fumbling and looking for the names left to right alphabetically. Here is the thing that makes this situation worth sharing. I kept grumbling that I didn’t like the set up and kept making the same mistake over and over. That is when the most amazing thing happened without a word being said. My coworker reached over, grabbed the trays and flipped them around! There in front of me with that simple gesture was the solution.

I keep going back to this incident in my mind and here is why it frustrates me that my natural response, instead of thinking of a solution, was to grumble and just keep making the same mistake repeatedly. For whatever reason, I could not see the super simple solution to my problem. It was also easier to complain than to come up with the new process. I am not proud of that.

Having Courage and Being Vulnerable

The part of the story I love is that with just a quick flip of the trays, it was fixed. Abracadabra! How many times is it that all it takes is a fresh set of eyes to look at our problems and the solution is right there? Brene Brown, a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, talks in all her works about being vulnerable enough to let other people help us when we can’t flip the trays ourselves. What in your world is aggravating and keeping you making the same mistakes over and over? I know this story is just a simple registration table and nametags, but we all have situations where we are not seeing the solution or are unwilling to give it the mental energy to try, so it is easier to just complain.

Flip the Tray

What are the action points from this story? First, when posed with a challenge, think of a solution before you start to grumble. Second, when you see someone struggling, just quietly and quickly reach in and “flip” their tray.

The other story I wanted to share happened in a drive thru yesterday at a sandwich shop. It was taking forever to get one sandwich. The young girl at the drive thru was just standing at the window looking at the front of the store and not really doing anything.  I was getting annoyed because I was burning expensive gas and had things to do! I finally asked, “Hey is there a problem with my order?”  She looked at me and then she changed my whole attitude toward the situation.  She said, “We aren’t having a good day. In fact, we haven’t had a good day for quite some time.”

That was an honest, vulnerable, and courageous answer to a simple question.  She didn’t make excuses, she didn’t make promises, she just stated the facts from her point of view. I loved it and it totally changed my point of view. Brene says, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

Take the time to flip each other’s trays and be honest and vulnerable when presented the opportunity.  That is the view this week from where I sit.