August 12, 2016
The fact that we occasionally connect in a meaningful way through communication is a miracle.
It’s lovely when that connection – a meeting of the minds and hearts – happens. But more often than not it’s a crap shoot. How often have you left an interaction feeling pretty good about yourself, only to find out later that you inadvertently offended or hurt someone. You’re shocked! Because you have a completely different perspective on what happened. I bet you have an example from your own life right at the forefront of your mind this very moment!
Here’s how it works. In a shared moment I intend to express amusement and creativity. You, on the other hand, feel confused and uncomfortable with what I thought was sophisticated, wry humor. And it happens both ways — you throw out an off the cuff remark that seems appropriate to the moment, little knowing that you just cut my heart out.
How and what I communicate is a complex interaction between my thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, psychosocial history, and genetics. Toss in that it’s expressed and received through my particular unique personality, physiology and neurology, the likes of which will never be duplicated. And that’s true for you too! Of course it can be a crap shoot!
When I’m not fully present in the moment, I can be remarkably unaware that I’m sending messages I do not want to be sending.
There is pretty conclusive research that facial expression, tone and body language give us the bulk of the message. The actual words we use tend to have far less significance.
That’s a problem if I’m on automatic pilot and oblivious to anything except the words. What might sound like an innocent opinion, when accompanied by a sneer or withdrawal of eye contact, can be devastating.
I suspect that our words likely represent the intention of which we’re aware. We intend to be funny, or express interest, or offer information, or simply start or end a conversation.
But facial expression, body language and tone often represent what’s really going on — what’s going on below the surface. Sometimes the discrepancy between my thoughts and my body language can be pretty simple. Although my posture, droopy eyes and yawns might suggest to you that I’m bored, I’m actually sleep-deprived and ready to nod off. I simply can’t give you my full attention. Which suggests a few words are in order so that I don’t inadvertently offend you.
What’s going on behind the scenes can sometimes be more complex. I want more attention. You want more attention. I’m tired of listening to you drone on and on. I’m feeling insecure so I’m droning on and on because hearing myself talk makes me feel important. You’re falling asleep while I’m offering unsolicited advice. Or in my head I’m having a rant about what an idiot you are while offering a smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes.
Point being, when I’m mindless — on automatic pilot — I’m not fully in charge of the messages I’m sending.
More importantly, I don’t notice the outcome I’m creating until it’s too late. I don’t see the look on your face before I embellish and exacerbate my first thoughtless communication with supporting missteps. I don’t notice that my body is tight as though it’s on high alert. Way deep down I may know something just happened and feel a twinge of discomfort. But it takes a bit longer for me to notice that the temperature in the room just dropped by 20 degrees. If I notice at all.
It’s bizarre — on automatic pilot I can leave an interaction never knowing that I may have permanently damaged our relationship.
Returning to the moment, the simple act of noticing what’s going on both inside and outside ourselves, can radically change our relationships. If we can come back to ourselves many times a day, we may experience a gradual increase in our ability to grab that foot before it gets inserted in that mouth.
Can we reduce the in-head/out-mouth discourse that can turn even the best-intentioned conversation into a big crap-shoot? Is it crazy to think that if we change even one relationship by being more aware of the messages we’re sending, it might be possible to change many of them? And could that, if it spread, change the world?
I’d love to get a conversation going on this one. Please share your thoughts.