Finding out what’s behind the words
We make so many assumptions when it comes to communicating with others. We have to, as we generally don’t have time to read between the lines. This leads to snap decisions and judgements. Much of the time, this is OK and no harm is done. However, if we make a snap decision that someone doesn’t like us, or is moody or ungrateful , or whatever… it is very unlikely that we will change our minds on this.
On good days. we might give people the benefit of the doubt and won’t come to such a decision, but at stressful times (like Christmas!), we are so much more likely to jump to conclusions and misinterpret the words and behaviour of others, making assumptions quickly that may be detrimental to relationships (and our enjoyment).
Stressful situations don’t help….
Stress doesn’t bring out the best in us and if time is against us, we are loathe to find out what’s really going on for others. Too often, misunderstandings happen and nobody stops to find out the reasons behind a person’s behaviour. If someone is behaving badly, this is all that we see. This is the story that we have about them. It happens far too often in the workplace. Someone might be behaving badly – their attitude, time keeping, performance etc and this might get as far as a disciplinary or actually being asked to leave. In some cases, fortunately, someone sits down and asks them what’s going on, only to find out that they’re experiencing some difficult circumstances at home that are causing them to behave like this. Once support is offered and put in place, the behaviour changes.
Taking people at face value means that we only get to know a tiny part of them. Have a look at the cartoon below and consider what’s going on.
Two people are speaking to each other. If they are moderately good listeners, they will hear what the other is saying. Each will interpret the words in their own way (usually according to their own personal way of interpreting the world – see this article on “we see the world as we are not as it is”). What they don’t hear is what is behind the other person’s words (illustrated in the large orange bubbles). All their experience, thought processes, their own interpretation of the world and events, what happened to them that morning, what’s going on in their family, what drives them, what they value etc). If we can access this information, or just a small part of it, we would have a better understanding of what the other person is saying and would be in a better position to make fewer assumptions.
So what can we do?
- Firstly, notice that you’re making assumptions about the other person. What effect is this having on your relationship?
- Take a step back and consider what might be going on for them – here it’s difficult not to make assumptions, but imagine you are an innocent bystander, watching the conversation. Picture the cartoon and remember we only see a fraction of what is really going on.
- Ask them some open questions to find out what’s behind the words. Let go of your judgement (this can be easier said than done!).
Hopefully you will gain some insight into what is behind their words. At the very least, this new perspective will help you understand them a bit better and you might feel a better connection as you learn more about them and they see that you are genuinely interested.
This is a strategy that works well for many of the people I coach. It is definitely worth giving a go and I’d love to hear what you think.