I knew it was going to be a crucial conversation—for me at least. It was 65 days since e-filing, and our state income tax refund still had not been deposited in our checking account. I knew I had better call and talk with an official person even though it had been approved for payment according to the online message. After punching in all the right numbers and pound signs on my phone, I finally got a living human being, Agent Hardy, of the North Carolina Department of Revenue. I had to laugh to myself that his last name was my maiden name. Was this a good sign that we shared a name in common?

I explained my question, and after several minutes of follow up questions and “on-hold” time, Agent Hardy, indeed, confirmed that our refund had been approved, but the check had not yet been dated. “Dated?” I asked. “Yes, it’s in a queue, so it just hasn’t gotten to the top,” Agent Hardy explained. “Oh, and when might that be? I mean how much longer might we have to wait?” I asked trying not to sound too anxious or put out. Like any good Agent, Hardy said he couldn’t tell me for sure.

At this point, I knew I had to make a decision to either accept a few more weeks of waiting or take my concern “to the next level,” which probably had about a 1% chance of getting us our refund any sooner. So I decided to wait and thanked Agent Hardy for his time. He wished me a lovely day.

While the result I was looking for wasn’t extremely critical to our lives and, therefore, not worth pursuing further conversation and action, it was important for us to know that there was no tax filing problem or that we hadn’t been forgotten. (Both my husband and I have our speculations as to why it’s taking the state government so long, but that’s a topic for another time.) So I was somewhat satisfied that we will get our refund sometime in the near future, and Agent Hardy and I parted in good company.

As I reflect on conversations that I would consider crucial, they aren’t always conversations where I am at odds with or need something from the other party. I’ll call these small “c” crucial conversations. I think about the ones that require me to step outside of my comfort zone and express some words of comfort, appreciation, or love. I’m talking about those moments when I neglect to say even a “thank you” or show empathy or even ask what I can do to help—those moments when I presume the other person knows what I’m feeling and thinking.

I admit that I don’t often enough express my gratitude to my husband who is working part-time in his semi-retirement and returns home exhausted after opening his department at 5:00 A.M. Or I don’t often enough tell my daughter and her husband what loving and thoughtful parents they are as they raise their daughter to be who she is meant to be. I think about the old-fashioned thank you note that I was taught was crucial to a friendship or family relationship. How many do I send these days? Not enough. These simple expressions of appreciation, concern, and love are foundational for crucial conversations now and for the future—whether they are large “C” or small “c.”

When did you last have a small “c” crucial conversation?

Betsy J. Perry