The Deceit of Communication

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.

Learning Assertiveness

“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.

Show Up

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.

Digital Communication

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.

Curtain Call

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.”

You Are What You Think

Base Camp

If I were to ask you who knows you best or who you always confide in, who would you name? Would it be your significant other? Perhaps your best friend or a parent? It could be a certain four-legged member of your family with the largest listening ears. I know my mutt has heard many of my own monologues. Whoever came to mind, I can say it is incorrect.

We confide the most in the one person who we’re stuck with. Ourselves. Mostly left unsaid, our self-talk can dictate our mood and confidence and repeated self-talk, over time, becomes not just inner ramblings but how we generally view ourselves. Said differently, what our self-worth is.

For what it’s worth, pun intended, we’re all indispensable. In the physical sense, you are made of matter and therefore you matter in the metaphorical sense. Being told you matter can give us a shot of confidence for a time but for the feeling to be perpetual, you need to wholly believe it so much that when you’re on the precipice of a downward spiral, you can pull yourself back with your own self-talk.

The Climb

Did you know that the voice in your head can cruise through 600-800 words a minute? Playing out scenarios, reflecting on the past, thinking what to say next, reactionary emotions, and the back and forth of you talking to you. To have positive self-talk we need to take full advantage of as many of those words.

Negativity bias tells us negative experiences or thoughts outweigh positive ones and self-talk is no different. A single “I can do this” doesn’t net out “I can’t do it.” Research also shows us that any type of positive self-talk, even unrelatable self-talk, can combat thoughts of stress and anxiety.

The single best piece of advice I received a few years ago is this. When you’re in a moment of deprecation and you’re spiraling, take a moment and think of the person that knows you best. What would they say to you? I’m positive their words would be absent of worst-case scenarios and blaming and full of kindness and optimism.

“You did your best.”
“You’re going to get through it.”
“You can try again.”
“It wasn’t the right fit, there are others.”
“I’m grateful for you.”
“I believe in you.”
“I love you.”

Replacing your self-talk with a loved one’s voice forces the different narrative and offers us an antidote to the internal poison we’ve concocted.

The Perfect Path Doesn’t Exist

Lower self-worth can exacerbate other feelings of negativity like stress or disappointment and can lead to deeper patterns. One of those patterns can be perfectionism. Perfectionists see their outputs as a measure of success and don’t take appreciation for the inputs given like time, energy, commitment, resilience, creativity, and learnings along the way. Perfectionists hold unattainable expectations for themselves and even in times where everything goes right, there’s a feeling of inadequacy. Disappointment sounds like “I didn’t do enough,” Perfectionism says “I am not enough.”

To combat this, celebrate the victories in battle, even if the war looks bleak. Before marching on to the next battlefield, take a moment to breathe and reflect at how far you’ve come and the gains you’ve made along the way. There’s positives throughout that are well deserved and worthy of recognition unto yourself. Perhaps you learned a new skill or navigated a difficult conversation well. Perhaps it’s the sole fact that you made it.

And There’s Nothing You Can Do About It

Another point here is control. Stephen Covey popularized the idea of a Circle of Control, Influence, and Concern in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The concept was developed within the business acumen but it is applicable to this subject too. In short there are three concentric circles with the smallest being control, then influence, then concern.

The circle of control being the things you can manage – your own productivity, healthy habits, behaviors, and of course self-talk. The circle of influence being things beyond your control but that you can still impact – group projects, relationships, and culture. Finally, the circle of concern is everything else beyond control or influence – weather, traffic, economy, the DMV.

Within life, we are not the only soldier. We alone cannot control every outcome and yet we tie our self-worth to it. At a point, in the words of Elsa from Frozen, we have to let it go. We then can stop and say what a great job we’ve done up until this point. Going forward, you may keep influence, but the direct correlation of self-worth stops at only what you can control.

The Summit

Much like everything else, practice is crucial. The more intentional you are with self-talk, the more it becomes an unconscious habit. Overriding the negativity with positivity will feel incredibly forced at times but over time it becomes organic and can greatly reduce those moments of looking over the edge. If you do fall in, remember to lean on the other voices in your life and separate what you can control and what you can not.

Saying No More Often

I’ve previously discussed the importance of keeping wants in parallel with needs. With a constant barrage of needs in our lives, it might be difficult to perceive how one could bring our wants up to par. Instead, what if we could reduce our needs? What if, to one thing today, you had said no?

What No is and What it Should be

Most of us shrink when reading that last sentence. We’ve been conformed to believe the word is negative, forbidden, and frowned upon. I want to change it to be empowering, taking back control, and committing to your well-being. When you tell someone no you’re prohibiting an action or call to action. Yet, when a request comes to us, despite our internal desires to say no we say yes. Later confiding to others that “This is dumb, I don’t have the time and I don’t want to do it.” What then, drives our almost immediate inclination to agree?

Against our will, fear can drive our unsolicited affirmation. Afraid of how others would react. To be seen as incompetent or not a team player. We can feel guilty. That after saying no, you’ve let them down, that they’ll think less of you. These dark thoughts limit our courage to say no even when we’re fully aware we can’t commit wholly. In the end, when we say yes but mean no, we’re inhibiting ourselves to Show Up. As counter-intuitive as that sounds here’s how: saying yes when we mean no means we’ve relinquished control of our actions, allowing them to be dictated by others. That loss of control leads to stress and anxiety and anxiety consumes energy. Without energy, we don’t do things we want to do. Without doing the things we want to do, we can’t Show Up to things we need to do.

How Do We Say It?

There’s two things I’ve learned that build up my courage to say no. The most important is that declining cannot stand alone. It requires definition and reasoning. Why are you saying no? If speaking honestly, and your reasons are how you feel, it’s tough for someone to judge in the ways we’re so fearful about. The second is that yes and no don’t have to be the only answers.

One for Family

When someone requests something of us, they’re usually not aware of other time commitments or wants and so that responsibility falls to us to communicate. This gives perspective on how their request might fit into your grander plan. A request should not be a one way transfer of information. They require negotiation, compromise, and understanding. Similar to my logo with arrows facing each other, people can come together in the same way. My wife and I are consistently asking “What are you going to do?” At face value a harmless inquiry but it’s much more. What we’re really saying is “I want to open the floor for conversation on our individual wants and needs.” Now, eighty-percent of the time it’s met with “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” because we’d both rather bend a little for the other. Love right? Other times the conversation goes something like this where my wife might start by asking…

What are you doing to do today?
I was wanting to read for a little, then I need to mow the lawn, and after I’d like to play video games.
That’s a good plan, do you think we could put up curtains today?
Hmm, does it need to be done today?
No, tomorrow is fine too, I wanted to get them up before Monday.
Ok, let’s do it tomorrow morning.

Before out rightly making her request, she wanted to know where I stood. It’s a fantastic toe dip into in any conversation. Showing that you’re curious by asking open-ended questions shows you care and want the full download. Charging right into a demand creates a sense of urgency which could lead to a yes but means no – not beneficial to either party. Outside of emergencies, it’s worth the extra time to use gauging questions like “What’s on your mind?” or “What do you have to do today?

When asked to put up curtains my internal rebuttal was no. Still, I remained curious myself and I felt I needed more information. My wife then divulged that it didn’t have to be till Monday in which I agreed to. Referring back to my two courage building techniques, after I gave her the run-down of the day she was able to infer that video games after mowing is my time to recharge. This was my why. I didn’t have to be explicit since she was able to read between the lines. We’re married and we can do that. Remember, without doing our wants, we can’t Show Up fully to our needs. Second, I never said the word no. Here there was a third option of later.

Two for Work

The next example is in a professional setting. Knowing that the relationship isn’t a marriage, we can’t leave anything to chance and must be more direct.

It’s our responsibility to communicate our wants and needs.

Hey Nick, I sent you an email for some information the executives need. Do you think you could compile and have it by today?
Maybe. I read the email and I need some clarifications. Are we wanting to see it by geographical region or by warehouse?
By region.
Region will take about two hours, I’m not sure I could get it done today. Here’s what on my list for this afternoon: Need A, Need B, Want A. I at least want to keep Want A to keep making progress on that longer-term project but I also think both Need A and B are more time-sensitive. Other departments are relying on one and the other our entire team utilizes heavily in getting their weekly word completed.
I agree. Could we have it by tomorrow at noon?
That would work much better.

To start with, what they could have done better is by asking a gauging question instead of straight to business. What if I wasn’t feeling well that afternoon? What if a family matter had come up? After learning more of where someone stands, they may opt to not even make the request. Since this didn’t happen, I had to insert my wants and needs myself. In the same breath, I stated my why for each along with my preliminary no.

This could have gone a different way. Since I was speaking with my direct manager, I left open the opportunity to shift around the needs if they felt the new request was of higher importance. If so, our conversation would have been longer discussing which of the two needs, or both, would be delayed all while protecting my want. This scratches the surface of cultures where executive’s requests are somehow the most important, drop everything, do it now fire drill but in reality disrupt multiple people and their work and inevitably suck up more time than anything else but I digress.

Three for Us

At this point you might be thinking ‘Hold up, both these situations in the end you ended up agreeing to the request. What about when it comes to saying no altogether? No compromising to be had.’ I will say it was easier to use those actual examples to break down the individual parts and expand on differences between environments. Respectfully saying no doesn’t come with flair and will be our last example.

Hey Nick, did you want to go to brunch with us on Sunday?
Where you going?
*Insert restaurant where the food is not great and the only reason you’d go is for mimosas*
No, I’ll pass. I want to stay home and get some reading done.

I Can’t, My Llama Needs a Bath

When it comes to giving your No a why, make it the truth. People will eventually see through lies. Once they do, they fabricate their own truth. If your fifth-time excuse to not attend game night is we’ll be putting the two-year old down which takes two hours, they might begin believing you don’t want to spend any time with them or you’re holding a grudge. Worse yet, maybe aren’t as good of friends like they thought. I’m not a parent yet but I know baby sitters exists.

Countless times I’ve declined invitations to “go out” because truthfully, I had plans to play my new video game that night. I used to be afraid of the judgement that would come from it but I realized people think quite the opposite. I get responses from “I respect that” to “What game is it?” to “I’m jealous, I’d rather binge watch that new show on Netflix than go but my other friend is dragging me.” Don’t allow your actions to be dictated by others. My true friends have learned that if they want me to attend an event, I need adequate time to mentally prepare. As an introvert, depending on the intensity, social interactions lean more towards a need than a want. I have to plan time to get my wants up to par.

The idea of saying No is taking control of your day. If you have a plan, own it. Not to say you can’t be flexible, the first examples showed you can be and still say no with grace and professionalism. Define your no with supporting information and stick to the truth. Turn no into not today, maybe, or next time. Please though, if it is next time make sure you mean it and you can commit!

Lastly, if you do in fact own a Llama, I’d like to know if you’ve ever used that as a valid reason!

New Series – Show up Sunday

What’s It About

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?

Who’s Angry?

In Fiction

My favorite character in Pixar’s movie UP is Anger. I envy his tenacity. If you’ve never seen it, each character in the movie is the embodiment of some basic emotion inside Riley, a small girl’s mind, that controls her reactions: Joy, Anger, Fear, and Sadness. While each character wholeheartedly lives up to their name, Anger is the only one that displays his emotion in varying degrees. Fear is in a constant and exhaustive state of worse-case scenario and Sadness delivers every line with more gloom than Eeyore losing his tail. Anger though, moves from grumpy to a literal explosive display of unrivaled rage. Watching Anger’s head bursts into flames makes for Pixar magic but we too can erupt in some drastic ways.

In Reality

When we get angry we also get heated and our physiological “fight or flight” kicks in. The body tenses and more blood gets pumped to prepare for the incoming threat. In this mode, with our own head on fire, it is impossible to think strategically or with a broader vision. We see one color, one path, one outcome. We can attempt to spread the flames by placing blame or insulting others. This is especially true when we’re hiding deeper emotions underneath. Anger is easier to show than pain or jealously. In the moment, the fire is debilitating – but with considerate reflection the long-term effects are worth the temporary burn. Before that, we need to practice cooling off both easier and more quickly.

Cooling off

When you’re upset, If I vent about it, it’ll get better is on repeat in your mind. You’ll go to anyone with ears. In an office, this is gossip and a big mistake. Confide with someone you trust and know. Letting yourself be heard can be healing but be careful when expression devolves to rumination. Be upfront and clear whether you want feedback or not. Even if it’s great feedback, you may not be in a position to accept it. Others however, can gain perspective from the same feedback.

On perspective, take advantage of distance or time away. Being removed from the situation allows the “fight or flight” effects to evaporate. Once the adrenaline is gone, it becomes easier to understand how the situation came to be. If the anger is towards someone chances are their actions were righteous in forethought. Circling back at a later time and asking them to elaborate can validate their intentions weren’t malicious.

The faster we can move from fueling the fire to extinguishing, the faster we gain the benefits.

The Benefits

Anger shows us what we care about the most. In UP Anger got upset when someone hurt Riley. Anger’s reactions were all to protect Riley, not bringing others down on purpose. The next time you’re upset consider the reason. When it comes to our character, we all prioritize different values. When those values are questioned, we respond accordingly. Joy is one of mine – I get upset when others create hostile environments. If you can’t cool off after finding someone has lied in a relationship, maybe honesty is one of yours.

At the office, we can get angry when a mistake is made. This is a great opportunity to identify gaps in process or training, not the person. Remember people aren’t malicious and honest mistakes are made. What if the process is too convoluted, too manual increasing the risk? Is training too much of ‘on-the-job’ over dedicated time covering topics? If such a gap exists, as a leader our job is to find it. I can guarantee though you won’t find anything through the flames.