While I was teaching and launching 4 more Friendship Accelerator groups yesterday, I made a mental note to myself that I would put to written words all the reasons I gave the attendees of that workshop for regularly using my all-time favorite sharing question. Here it is for you! The Question:
Called the "High/Low" question-- it invites all participants to share a highlight and a low light of their choosing.
A highlight can be: an event, a milestone, a decision, a choice for self-care, an accomplishment, a goal achieved, a moment appreciated, or a cherished conversation. Anything that produced feelings of positivity... joy, contentment, serenity, gratitude, pride, or inspiration.
A low light can be: a tough conversation, a disappointment, a heartbreak, a loss, an unmet expectation, an obstacle, an insecurity, or something that is causing anxiety and worry. Anything that produced feelings of negativity... fear, loss, sadness, anger, or disillusionment.
I call it the "High/Low," one of my workshop attendees in Chicago says she calls it "Thorns & Roses." I like that, too!
Applications of The Question:
If it's with friends you see regularly, such is the case for my weekly girls group or with family that comes over most Friday evenings, then the question can be limited to the short time period since we've last seen each other: "What was a highlight and low light from this last week?"
If it's with friends we haven't talked to in a while, such is the case with my "SoCal girls group" who is scheduled tonight for our first quarterly phone call, 2 months from when we were all together for our annual weekend trip, then it becomes more of a "What is one "high" going on in your life right now, and one "low?" giving the freedom to name a biggie that happened last month or to pick the thing that matters most this week.
If it's with a friend I haven't seen in ages, then the question might be bit more broad to encompass more time, "So in the last year, what would you say has been a highlight and low light for you?"
If it's with my husband who I see every day, and already happen to know most of what his day looked like, we still ask this question in a variety of ways. If before bed, we might say, "So what was one of your high moments and low moments today?" as a good way to reflect on the day. And I'm still surprised sometimes the impact one email can have... showing up in either category. If it's after a trip, "Looking back on the trip, what would you say was one of your favorite highlights and low lights?"
The question is even great within themes, not necessarily constrained by time. Yesterday, in the Friendship Accelerators, I asked the women to share with each other, "What is a highlight/low light for you in your current relationship status?" Or it can be in your job, where you live, about your body image, or any other subject.
Here's Why I Love The Question SO Much:
- Honors Real Life: There's a time for hypothetical, but it's not when I'm wanting to connect with my friends and find out what really matters in their lives. This question reminds all of us that there is ALWAYS a duality to life-- when you're in a season of uncertainty or grief, there are still moments of good to be recognized, and when you're in a season of recognition, goal achieving, or ease, there are still unmet expectations, stressors, and new worries. And, sometimes, more-often-than-not, the very same thing that is a high can also be a piece of our low.
- Decreases the Chances of Jealousy: It's all too easy to see the highlights of each other's lives-- the marriages, kids, fancy trips, and awards-- and end up feeling less thrilled with our own. But when I journey over the long-haul with my friends, seeing the lows and highs, I really think it reminds us that no one's life is perfect. We stop begrudging each other for what we each have.
- Increases our Ability to Celebrate our Wins & Cheer for Each Other: For many women, we're more comfortable sharing our lows, than we are our highs. We don't want to be seen as bragging, and we've picked up intuitively that others seem to like us best when our marriages aren't amazing, our kids aren't perfect, and our career isn't rocking. But if we can't practice our greatness and capacity with friends, then who do we get to practice owning our light around? We need to be able to say, "I'm proud of this part of my life," and we need to keep practicing telling our friends that we're proud of them, too!
- Puts Control into the Hands of the Sharers: By asking for a high/low there is enough structure to prompt and direct our thinking (as opposed to just saying "So what's up?" "What's new?" or "Tell me what's going on these days.") but it's also broad enough to let each person choose what they share. If one low light feels too vulnerable for that occasion-- pick another. On the other hand, if something happened that you secretly wish people knew and could support you in-- this is your chance to let them in. Your choice!
- Invites Honesty: You ask someone how they're doing, and they'll say fine. You ask them what's going on, and they'll inevitably give you a summary of the kids or work. I've noticed entire groups of people--even people who consider themselves close-- can spend the entire evening giving updates, talking about what they saw in the news, or telling a story they know will regale everyone. But if you give them permission to share two specific things that matter in their lives then the conversation changes to what they want to share, not just what they were asked about or what they thought would make entertaining conversation.
- Protects Space for Each Person: I really believe most people want more substantial conversations, we just don't feel comfortable taking over the conversation and offering up some things that feel mundane, feel like downer-subjects, or could be perceived as bragging. But that doesn't mean we don't want people to know us. By asking this question to a living room full of people, we may sure that the introvert has protected space to share without her having to fight for the floor. We make sure that the extroverts aren't just entertaining, but really sharing. We make sure no one leaves saying, "No one even asked me about..." and feeling as though they weren't even seen.
- Develops Intimacy: When done regularly, as each Friendship Accelerator will do in the ensuing four weeks when they get together, this question can build a real sense of connectedness. We worry less that our highlight this week doesn't feel huge in contrast to someone else when we can see the pattern over time that all of us have joys and all of us have pain-- our turn for each will come. In the meantime, we feel seen. We know that someone knows that we're stressed about money, fearful about not getting pregnant yet, or worried about our grown son's latest seemingly-destructive choice. We admitted it in a safe place because everyone else was sharing, too. We weren't left "out there" feeling like we're the only ones with a problem. And simultaneously, we didn't fear what others thought when we shared our pride or joy-- because they did it too. We feel supported. And we can support.
During the Friendship Accelerator, after I have all the groups share their high/low with each other, I ask the women to raise their hands if they would have voluntarily offered up what they just chose to share. In other words, would they have guided the group conversation to that story, had the space not be made for it. I'd guess about 15% of them raise their hands. Indeed, sometimes the high or low is such that we might offer it up without being asked, but more often than not, we need someone to ask us before we gladly share.
I'm already looking forward to tonight's call with my 4 girlfriends who live in Seattle, San Antonio, and Southern California. I genuinely want to know what's mattering to them. And I'm glad I don't just have to leave it to chance that it's shared....