Guess what? It turns out we are not as transparent as we think we are. We know what we are thinking, we know what we mean, we know what we want … but just because we know what we’re on about, doesn't mean that others do.
When people aren’t clear on what you mean, they do this frustrating (and very human) thing; they make stuff up. Yep. They fill in the blanks themselves and it’s often not the blanks you intended.
When left to their own devices, people fill in motivations, intentions and assumptions based on their own reality, not yours. This means they interpret your actions, your interactions and your behaviours through their own lenses, made up of their unique backgrounds, experiences, memories, values, expectations etc.
Case in point:
A team member offers a suggestion in a team meeting. You frown in response. Why? Because that’s what happens to your face when you need to deeply consider new information. It forms a frowny-thinking type face. You say, ‘Let’s come back to that next week.’
Your team member doesn't make this ‘frowny’ face when thinking, so they assume it means something else. Without any other spoken words to the contrary from you, they decide you don't like their suggestion. They ‘take the hint’ (that you didn’t even send) and don't’ make any more suggestions for the rest of the meeting. You’re left wondering why they went quiet…
When you run into strange reactions and curious behaviours like this, it can be a useful exercise to take stock of what people might be making up to fill in the gaps. Here are some questions you can ask yourself (or others).
- What happened in the meeting?
- What was I doing/saying just before the strange response (e.g. person went quiet)?
- What feedback have I ever received about this kind of situation in the past (e.g. you are hard to read)?
Then, consider where the other person may have made up some stuff, based on your behaviour, that you did not intend to convey. Make a note for next time to do more signposting around that behaviour.
Here’s what a rerun of the meeting (with some additional signposting), might sound like:
A team member offers a suggestion in a team meeting. You frown in response. You remember your frowns are often misinterpreted, so you expand a little more than usual on your response. ‘Hmm that’s a great suggestion. I need more time to think it through. Let’s come back to that next week. I like the way you are thinking outside the box.’
The team member is happy. They now see the ‘frowny face’ as a ‘thinky face’ and carry on making great suggestions. They do not read between the lines because you have spelt out the play in the main text.
It’s so easy to get caught out in the illusion of transparency. We know what we mean and we assume it’s equally obvious to others. The sooner we realise that that’s not true, the stronger our communication (and relationships) will be.
If you want more on this topic, I highly recommend Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book, “No one understands you and what to do about it.”
If these sorts of things happen to you a lot and you want to work with an expert in decoding human behaviour to get on top of it, get in touch today.
'Til next time
Anneli is an author, speaker and communication expert who helps her clients improve their communication, influence and engagement.
She has been providing executive coaching, keynote speaking and leadership training, as well as facilitating team workshops and team offsites, for over a decade.
As a professional Whisperer, she is obsessed with decoding people dynamics for improved performance and specialises in interpersonal intelligence - the ability to understand and navigate the people dynamics in a given situation.
Get in touch to find out how to work with Anneli today!
Enjoyed my radio chat with Suzy Yates on Home and Holiday, Talking Lifestyle.
Women in Leadership masterclass - Leading out Loud
We are fully booked for March so you may join the July program instead! Hurry as 2/3 of the spots are already filled!
Women in Leadership masterclass is a program to give women the confidence, communication strategies and cultural insight to actively manage their leadership careers. This is not about turning into someone you’re not; it’s about simple yet powerful techniques for navigating your career, finding your voice and taking your place at the table.
When: 20 July 2018
Where: VU Convention Centre, Victoria University, Level 12, 300 Flinders St, Melbourne, 3000
Time: 9am to 5pm
Cost: $1320 (inc )
Book by: 6 July 2018