I was born in Berlin and grew up in the North of Germany. I am the definition of straight forward. Call me Blunt, 007 Straight-to-the-point Blunt!
Once I applied for a diplomatic career,
but it did not happen. Having been disappointed at the time, when I got kicked out of round 2 (I think or was it 1? Not sure anymore), I now know that it was best for the world’s peace. I might have started one or two wars just by saying what I am thinking. I cannot help it. When I think it is valid and important for the topic at hand (not for me personally) I say it and I am not pussyfooting around. Period! Most people do not make the distinction between their person and what is important to bring something forward. That does not mean at all, that I am always right, far from. If proven wrong, I am happy to admit it and adjust accordingly, though that is a skill, I had to learn for a very long time.
In my teens and twenties I had a tendency to not only being blunt but also rather harsh, thinking that everyone should be able to see the point, not understanding that not everyone thinks the way I am thinking. Will say, I tend to weigh all options in my head rather fast…
As most of my friends do the same, it never occurred to me that it is rather seldom. Until I became a teacher and later a head. Don‘t get me wrong, with students it was never a question for me that it will take time and I can be extremely patient with them (when they really try, though), but with adults I was more than once at the brink of a major nuclear explosion.
Now imagine me with the said tendency coming to Japan, where people are just not able to clearly decline something and say „No“ to a wish you might have. If something does not taste it is “interesting”. If you ask someone whether he or she has time for a coffee they will answer, „Today it is a bit…..“ and their voice will fade into a void or hell of unanswered questions. I am not sure which.
Blame it on Kyoto
So Japanese are said to be extra polite. Even more polite than the British, and they are a special breed as it is (Sorry, Holly, Anne, and all my beloved British family, you have enough German influence left to be excluded from that statement, if you wish to😉.
So I learnt a lot while living in Japan, and whenever someone told me I was so polite, I would blame it on my three years in Kyoto. No more questions asked. I have never thought of me being polite. It made me wonder.
Well, Japanese might be polite, but they are not discreet! Gossip is a word that comes to mind, but also they will just point blank ask you the most awkward questions. „What do you think of Japanese society?“ „What do you think of Japanese men/women?“ „How do people in your country think about Japan?“ „Do you want to have a Japanese husband?“ How the heck do I know? Well to the last one I know the answer, but having adopted to the culture I‘d probably say something along the lines „An interesting idea…..“
It has always baffled me, how that discrepancy works and I have not yet found an answer. I just have to hold my breath every time I am involved in such conversations, a skill that benefited me with the adults I have been working with. Which eventually led to me being exhausted.
So I was torn between talking out and keeping my thoughts to myself and as we all know extremes are never good.
Getting older has its perks
It was roughly around when I was 45 that there was a shift. Suddenly people would comment on how well I have described a difficult situation to the point, but in a very respectful or kind manner, so that it was clear but not hurtful. Well put was something I started to hear more frequently.
Should I finally have mastered the skill of being diplomatic?
Being a teacher again means that I no longer have to read report cards, but write them once a year. I teach close to 200 students and it is always one of those duties we rather enjoy procrastinating. A skill fostered for many decades but ‚this- year I had no choice, I had to start early, as I wanted everything sorted before leaving the school year a couple of days earlier to fly to Japan.
One day in April I was talking with a colleague at the copy machine and mentioned, that I started writing report cards. She was in awe and stated, “Your report cards are quite famous.“ I stared at her gulped an asked with light bewilderment, „Why?“ I‘ve only been at the school for a year and a half at that point. Which means one round of report cards… „They are short and to the point.“ There it was again.
So this year was my second year and we always look for someone who proofreads. I am not going to bore you, but yet again a few people told me how much they liked them.
So obviously I have developed a skill, I personally was not aware of.
When trying to understand how this gift developed, I came across the fact, that I have learned to consider the other person. Personally I go crazy when someone uses the handbook „Do I understand you correctly…“ method, but it seems to work for most people.
So, when writing a report card, especially for the more attention seeking students, my mindset is to give them something that will help them to become the best person they are able to be. And the same applies to hopefully most of my conversations. That does not mean I lost my bluntness, it just found a different way to expresss itself.
I do not succeed every day, who would? But I try to be aware and mindful and gentle with myself if I fail. Tomorrow is another day to try to become the best version of myself.