Direct communication is at the heart of building relationships and creating team. Yet, for many, finding the words to say and having the courage to speak them out loud is no minor feat. Talking to your sister or your best friend is one thing, but how willing are you to share your most authentic self with someone you don’t know or who you think may not like what you have to say?

I swim regularly at my local YMCA. At the time that I swim, more than half the pool is reserved for H20 walkers–people who are walking and exercising in the water. Two lanes are available for swimmers. Last week, I hopped into the only empty lane at the same time one of the H2O walkers swam under the lane divider into the lane. I waited until she swam to my end of the pool, and I asked if she was okay sharing the lane. She was not. My ‘let’s avoid conflict’ instinct kicked in, and I opted for asking the woman in the other lane if she was willing to share her lane with me. She was. As I swam my half-mile that morning, I watched my lane neighbor gladly welcome another walker into her lane and they slowly walked back and forth, laughing and chatting as they exercised their bodies.

The man who joined her is a regular at the Y as well. I have seen him there a few times before. I began to watch him more closely. How had he brought such a smile to the face of this person who I had found to be kind of grumpy and unwilling to share? After my swim, I stretched my legs and arms in the whirlpool next to the pool and continued to watch. He chatted briefly with another woman who was working hard to navigate the steps out of the pool. She stopped, holding the railing, and laughed so hard I could hear her over the jets. What a gift, I thought to myself.

Soon, he had successfully entered the whirlpool with his own injured knee and was sitting between the H2O walker with whom he had shared a lane and me. I decided to practice what I tell others to do all the time: see and say what you appreciate. Do this often and with people with whom you have no familiarity or rapport. Over time, this practice increases the ease and confidence we need for speaking when conflict is present as well.

I took a moment, thinking of the words and finding my courage to say something heartfelt to a person I did not know. I waited until he looked in my direction, and then I spoke, raising my voice to be heard over the jets. “You bring a smile to everyone you meet. Every time you have a conversation, the person you are talking with either ends up smiling or laughing. Thank you for bringing so much joy to the world.”

He gave a big grin. “Well, I like to smile,” he said, “so I like to help others do the same.”

As I climbed out of the whirlpool, I heard him tell the walker beside him, “She just made my day! She said I bring a smile to every person I meet.”

I walked to the locker room, smiling and thinking about all that had happened in that one exchange. Direct communication is the path to connection. Each time we dare to engage, we open a door for a new connection to be made and that can make a person’s day.