Calling Us Out
“The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it. We have talked enough; but we have not listened.” – William H. Whyte
I could end this post there, these words reverberating with such clarity that it is worthy of both the beginning and the end. Fortunately, I hope for you and me being a purveyor of words, I wish to expound on it.
Passive Communication and Selfish Behaviors
Communication consumes a vast amount of our lives. Company culture, marketing, social media, politics, relationships, parenting, and countless other facets. The exchange of symbols or words, spoken, written, or signed, is correlated to steady and lasting marriages and companies spend millions of dollars annually ensuring they convey the right “message” to their target audience.
However grand scale communication can be, the small role we play dictates our influence over others and helps express our emotions. Unfortunately, our innate biases and assumptions, or perhaps even ego can get in the way of stellar communication. From that we can find ourselves becoming passive and selfish communicators.
“The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it.”
We believe it has taken place where from another’s perspective, it has not. In my observations passive communication is our default. When it comes to our wants and needs, we refrain for fear of judgement or hurting one’s feelings. Instead, we dance around the primary intent by dropping cues either through body language, tone of voice, or carefully selected words.
What I also know is that at times, we, I included, are abysmal at picking up social cues. Why? Perception is a function of one’s experience. My awareness of cues or how I’m perceiving cues is influenced by my norms which differ than yours. We can not expect both parties in every interaction to have an intimate understanding of individual communication styles. We may have globally recognized social cues but the nuance lies in the intensity. How large of a cue you give is based on what you know has worked previously.
The Magic Act
Herein lies the illusion of communication. On one end, we have a passive communicator believing they’ve dealt their hand without ambiguity but all the observer sees or hears is smoke and mirrors. Furthermore, the deceit doesn’t end there. Assisting the illusionary act are deeper emotional ramifications.
Passive communication is like walking on glass holding fifty pound weights. Constantly picking words or actions to not offend not only is a burden but makes for anxious and sweaty hands. It feels as though one slip can shatter the relationship you’ve put so much energy into building so to circumvent, you say nothing going along with the majority and pretending it is ok when internally, there is shame, anger, stress, and anxiety building on the premise your voice is not being heard when you believe you’ve given all the right signs.
Becoming a more assertive communicator is aligning the internal thoughts with the spoken word. Assertive is not aggressive. Assertive is direct and honest. While social cues have their place, it is far better to not rely on them in hopes one sees through the illusion. Another transformative quote you’ll find most fitting here is Brené Brown’s “Clear is Kind.”
Selfish to Selfless
“We have talked enough; but we have not listened.”
Communication requires two. It must be received and while we might be hearing, we’re not listening. Truly listening, is a selfless act and too often we’re in a selfish state. When you’re hearing someone speak, are you hearing to respond? Beginning to form a rebuttal before they’re finished? Think you already know the perfect advice to give and don’t need to hear that unabridged version? As if you’re saying “Hurry up and finish, my words are of greater rank than yours.” You would be taken aback if someone interrupted with that but you may as well be if you’re not listening wholeheartedly.
One of my core values underneath Showing Up is curiosity and a segment of that is staying committed to another’s thoughts and feelings. In order to do that, I try my best in allowing people center stage before I give any cue I’m ready to play a supporting role. Here’s two rules I’ve formed that support this:
Number one, before speaking, inhale through your nose and number two, only do number one in silence.
When people want to say something, there’s a tendency to inhale quickly through the mouth and the shoulders raise slightly. It’s obvious enough that the person speaking prematurely cuts themselves off allowing you to speak. Rather, inhaling through the nose does not give that indication. The secondary benefit is that because it’s not as natural and therefore must be conscious and intentional, it takes two seconds longer. In those two seconds you’ll find people continue to speak where you assumed they were finished. If they do continue, exhale and maintain selfless listening.
This is where number two comes in. Do not listen for the end of sentences to begin inhaling as they wind down. That is hearing to respond. Only after they have finished do you inhale giving the full two seconds of downtime. I know, this means there will be silence in a conversation and silence is awkward. Embrace it.
BONUS: Inhaling through your nose before speaking allows deeper breaths which helps you sound more confident as you finish out sentences with the same vigor as you started instead of squeaking out those last few words.
We can be selfish listeners towards the non-verbal too. Especially in our high-speed work environments with digital communication. It is almost intoxicating to fall prey to the melodic rhythm of responding to messages.
*Type type type*, *backspace backspace*, *type type*, “Thanks”, and send…*Type type type*, *backspace backspace*, *type type*, “Thanks”, and send.
Are you responding only to empty the inbox? To get it off your list? Selfish…selfish.
Selfless listening in an electronic world entails re-reading messages multiple times for total comprehension. Embrace the silence by waiting five minutes before responding. Read the entire chain! Absolutely if you’re late to the party. There is valuable insight in the tenth email down be it supporting information or the original objective that, now on the twelfth email, has been unbelievably misconstrued as it passed different hands. Lastly, my personal plea, respond fully. If two questions are asked, answer both.
I believe I’ve held my promise of expounding on those eloquent twenty-one words that began this post and in place of a traditional closing paragraph reiterating main points with witty remarks, I will double down on those same words that are truly befitting of the beginning and the end.
“The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it. We have talked enough; but we have not listened.”