Thursday, August 11, 2011

We Need to Express the "Inexpressible"

A few key points that I have made over the years:

1) We are often harder on ourselves that we are on others. This is in large part because the standards to which we hold ourselves are many times irrationally stringent, and the work of recalibrating them is often difficult.

2) Unresolved feelings are often communicated non-verbally (tone of voice, facial expression, body language). I have expressed this as “We either SPEAK up, or we ACT up”

3) The “Actor-Observer Bias” is the widespread tendency to think: "If others have trouble or make mistakes, it's due to their actions. If I have trouble or make mistakes, it's not my fault. It's due to the situation I'm in."

If we take these separately, they are interesting tidbits and we can use them to improve our communication. When we take them together, it becomes very clear that by working to notice when they are happening and learning to respond differently, we will view others in a different light. These simple aspects of communication interact powerfully.

We will begin to see that our standards are only ours and that if we hold others to them (“that guy never really does it as good as the way I would”), WE will developed unresolved feelings (“he is incompetent, but I won’t say anything”) and will transmit those feelings via non-verbal means. Those feelings will send a clear message of how we feel and who we blame (“it’s his fault of course”).

From our counterpart’s perspective, we will have “as much as said” these things to them because they are hardwired to interpret non-verbal communication. Of course, they are operating under the same rules as we are, and will begin to view US as lacking integrity or being “two faced” because we act one way and say another.

Our perspective will be something like “I really don’t want to push my own standards on the guy, but he never gets very good results because of his methods. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, though”.

Our counterpart will be thinking along the lines of “What is UP with that guy? I can tell he uncomfortable talking to me, but I can’t figure out why. It’s like he has a problem with me.”

This kind of misunderstanding is due to a lack of clarity between the two parties and it only takes one of them to become a bit more aware and change the experience for both. As we pratice our skill at expressing what we previously kept to ourselves, we will begin to move towards engaging our counterparts in the most productive way.

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