Barak Article

It's All About Communication...
Saturday, April 2, 2011

A while ago, at a meeting for my job, a Senior V.P. of human resources came down to talk at a round table discussion with my focus group. The focus group I am part of, is composed mainly of performers within the company’s customer service program (CSP), along with the veep of the CSP.

When the meeting began, it seemed as though the line staff and I were talking on a completely different frequency than this Senior Veep. As the meeting wore on, I began to drift off, away from the conversation (you know - checking my txts and e-mail, reading the latest on Fet and all that…) as it seemed this SVP was just talking in grandiose managerial overtures. To me, there appeared to be no applicable substance to her way of talking. As the meeting came to the close, she looked at us, and asked "If you were me, what would you do differently?"

I actually snorted a bit; surprising me, and the rest of the room. The Senior Veep looked at me as if I had suddenly grown another visible head, and said, "OK, let's hear it." I grinned, and began to talk. I informed her that almost immediately she had somewhat lost me with the broad-sweeping managerial language she was using. Continuing, I spoke about the specific type of discussion tactic that was shared by many managers, designed to talk very broadly about topics that actually don't answer any questions at all. Furthermore, when she had finished talking I still had no idea of the "answers" to questions that had been posed. As her grin widened, I stated that if I were her, I would simply say directly and without so much fluff, honest and complete answers. That I would tailor my discussions and sentences to who I was talking to, so I would be understood. At that, she actually broke into a little bit of a giggle.

When I was done, she took a moment, then she looked right at me and said, "I have two ways of talking, this way: the way I have been conditioned by my current job, and another way. The other way is a bit more what you are looking for, I am sure. It is the semi-colorful way I talk with my close friends and family. It is how I know to relate when I am not in a corporate environment. However, like you, I don't trust my vulnerability around people I don't know. If I were to expose myself and share at the level you are talking about, that would by default, place you into the category of those close to me. Now, we can both admit, that is not true. So, perhaps you can meet with me in private and we can spend a moment trusting one another; then I can share with you in the other way. Remember, when you have expectations of how I should act as a manager, and then I don't act that way, it sets up disappointment and resentment between us."

You could have shoveled my lower jaw off the floor! Not only had she heard what I said, but she offered an actual fix; A safe space, where we could connect as people. In that moment, I felt amazed and acknowledged, not that we were at such a differential, but that she had allowed a connection. Up until then, I had only felt disconnect between managers and line staff.

You ask, where the heck am I going with this? Let me ‘splain, no, let me sum up. This whole story is about communication mainly being projection and interpretation. You see we do not have actual communication if we speak two different languages. Also, it takes at least two people to have communication. One person projects the verbal or non-verbal statements and the other to interpret those statements. Everyone has heard the statement – "we only hear what we want to hear." This is true; we interpret what is being projected correctly only if we are actually listening and observing the full measure of what that person is projecting.

You say, "I listen to what they are saying – but there are still misunderstandings." Of course! For the most part, each person projects or interprets based on their personal history. For instance, I had a bottom once say, "I want you to whip me!" When I lovingly brought out my favorite 3-color 20 plait 4 foot single tail she squealed "RED!" I was confused. In my mind the verb “to Whip” means "use a Single-tail whip;" in hers it meant "use a soft, thuddy flogger." This is a case where both parties projected their history at the same time. She projected what she wanted me to hear, and I projected what I wanted to hear. Somewhere in the middle is what was trying to be communicated; but it never reached either person!

How do we fix this you ask? One of the best ways I know is by the "talking stick." The Talking Stick is an old tribal tradition where person A holds a painted and feathered stick and speaks. When A is finished, they hand the stick to the listener, B. Then B repeats what they heard A say, then hands the stick back to A. Then A acknowledges or corrects what B has heard. When A is satisfied B has heard them, B speaks. The process repeats until both people have completed this communication so they are both fully understood.

While it can be hard to explain constantly carrying around a colorfully painted wooden, plumed item such as this; understanding communication is essential in life and especially the scene. If we don't spend time learning to actively listen, we risk misinterpreting what is being said. This creates opportunity for disappointment, and then anger and resentment can interfere with fruitful relationships. Hopefully we can all learn from this, and become better communicators.

Just my morning thoughts on this cold and rainy Central Ohio day,


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