Two weeks ago I was sitting in the front row of a classroom, trying to listen to a lecture. The speaker projected her voice, but the two women sitting to my right were having an animated conversation, occasionally punctuated by giggles and chuckles. I found it difficult to hear over the noise.

I was also distracted by my thoughts:

I wish they’d be quiet. Why did they sit in the front row if they don’t want to hear the speaker? Maybe they’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time. Maybe they’ll quiet down. I wish I’d sat somewhere else. I know I’ve been the person talking in a lecture hall but this is getting ridiculous!

I sighed heavily.

As soon as I sighed, I realized I was being passive-aggressive. I have been the person talking in a lecture and I’ve responded to the sighs and glares of my fellow attendees by shrinking in my seat, feeling chastised—like a child.

I did not want to be “the parent” to the women sitting next to me.

Ask for what you need, I thought. Then I sat and tried to figure out what to say so they wouldn’t be offended and I wouldn’t look like a jerk. I finally realized I couldn’t control what they were going to think about me, whatever I said and however I said it.

I leaned toward the woman next to me. She leaned toward me. “I’m having a hard time hearing over your conversation,” I said.

I’m sorry,” she said.

“That’s okay,” I said, “I’ve been there.” I smiled at her and turned back to the lecture.

She and her friend quieted down. Not the still silence of a child caught doing something bad, but the comfortable near-silence of two women paying attention to everyone around them, including me.

At the end of the lecture, the two women and I chatted about the lecture and our upcoming board exams. It was a lovely interaction that would never have happened had I just continued to sigh and, eventually, glare.

Ask for what you need, I thought again.

Do you ask for what you need?


Diane MacKinnon, MD, writes about and speaks on life coaching topics. You can contact her at, or check out her website at 

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