“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
It seemed like nothing I was saying was getting through.
“Are you even listening to me?”, I said. This question was not very constructive and I was clearly agitated.
“Maybe you’re not explaining it very well?” he shot back.
“No, the problem is you’re only interested in repeating your own fucking bullshit instead of listening!”, by now I was yelling.
“Well fucking hit me then!”, he screamed at me.
We were clearly not getting anywhere and things had escalated for the past couple of minutes.
After taking some time to cool off I apologized and all he said was, “You shouldn’t get worked up like that.”
I very briefly considered taking him up on the earlier offer and punching him right in the throat. Fortunately, I wasn’t the same hothead I’d been as a kid. Still, I was in my early 20’s and had some growing up to do.
I can’t remember what we were talking about even. Only thing I remember was that I’d been working on it for the last couple of weeks and felt it deserved some attention.
What I’d missed became apparent when I said: “I already told you I didn’t have any numbers for you. I told you I’d get back to you on that. Why did you fucking harp on it and not listen to what I actually did have?”
“Look, I’m really not that interested. You do whatever you need to do.”
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And there it was.
Thinking back I remembered him being “Sure, go for it.” right from the start. I was so consumed by the project (whatever it was) that I was oblivious to the fact that it really didn’t matter to him.
What happened at the meetings, the reduced workload, the time it would save. It was all “whatever” in his book. All he wanted was the actual numbers.
When I understood that I put it aside and forgot about it. I decided if I didn’t have the support without the data and I couldn’t convince him to give it a 3 month trial, it wasn’t worth my time, or his.
From that day on communication, to the point of over-communicating, has been important for me.
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about nagging the same point over and over, ad nauseam.
What I mean is repeating the message just often enough while having the person you’re working with explain back to you what it is you’ve just said.
This does a couple of things:
- It lets me know that the other person has understood the words coming out of my face.
- Hearing someone else say it clarifies our thinking and gives both of us the opportunity to fill in the blanks in case there’s something we’ve missed.
- Makes it abundantly clear if you disagree on what’s important to each of you.
“Let’s talk” usually means that we want to say something while having the other person sit there nodding and agreeing with everything we say. We feel content with that.
But what happens if the person is getting something completely different out of the experience? How often aren’t our words twisted into something we didn’t intend?
We might do well in making sure, as sure as we can, that the other person actually understood us.
The issue isn’t that people don’t talk or don’t listen. It’s that neither of the parties make sure that they understand each other correctly.
This is something that takes practice. And is uncomfortable as hell in the beginning.
The amount of times I’ve been asked “No, that’s not what I said at all! Did you even listen?”, once I started saying things like:
“Is this what you meant when you said…?”
“If I understand you correctly then…”
“I’m sorry, I got distracted by your magnificent unibrow. Could you repeat that?”
This is my suggestion to you today. Try it out and see if the world doesn’t get a little bit clearer once you do.
Let me know how it goes in the comments and hit me up on Twitter.
Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!