Patterns are hard to see when you’re in them. They’re blindspots within your habits or those of a team.
To see above situations rather than through, to illuminate the blind spots, a change in perspective is needed and changes to perspectives come from honest feedback for ourselves and empathy for others.
“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.”
These posts are going to be quick reads aimed towards equipping all of us to own the upcoming week. Consider them a challenge. This blog and my daily mantra centers around “Showing Up” and the “We” in the site name is no coincidence. It is neither “I can” nor “You can” but WE Can Show Up as leaders, co-workers, spouses, friends, parents – together, with combined experiences and through emotional transparency. That said…
Show Up Sunday – Positive Intent
Assume positive intent. These three words can be an enormous mind shift. I alluded to this in a prior post about anger being such a powerful emotion without calling out specifically. In any situation, if you truly believe positive intent, it’s almost impossible to have negative thoughts. Beyond that, it gives opportunities to build deeper connections through trust. How’d you feel if you were on the receiving end of this after you’ve made a mistake?
“I know this looks bad but I know you didn’t mean it. I’d like to understand how you approached this and see where we differed.“
Assuming positive intent shifts us from blame to understanding.
How often can you assume positive intent this week?
“Showing Up” is representative of my approach each day. While it’s a great motivator, underneath is where the action is. Learning comes first. It is a building block for growth and without it leaves you in a place of complacency and monotony. For me, staying curious is the best way to learn. I define curiosity as investing energy to learn or understand a deeper meaning. When curious, we seek knowledge not an answer. There is joy in the process. It’s about knowing that the unknown exists and stepping into the dark.
In this spirit of learning, here’s what I’ve come to known early in my career:
Sometimes the best option is to walk away…and come back. Spending time internalizing a situation creates options. Distance creates perspective.
Unproductive meetings are one of my pressure points. In this context, I support Parkinson’s Law. Don’t schedule an hour if it’s not needed. An agenda and a clear purpose is mandatory.
What kind of leader I don’t want to be. As a leader in spirit and practice, observing behaviors from others in position have shaped the my own vision.
Excel. A lot of Excel.
Ask questions. They mean you’re learning.
I’ve learned the best days are spent teaching, developing tools, and understanding others. I’m consistently diving into how an environment affects people’s emotions. I’m drawn to the emotional intricacies of people at work and it drives my curiosity – and curiosity begets learning.