Some interesting glitches in communication have been manifesting lately and I’m choosing to view that as a prime opportunity to share about those to help all of us build better communication with others. Let’s see if any of the following ring a bell with you:
1. Top Down vs. Bottom Up Communication: this one is classic in my own relationship! Top Down communication is giving the big picture first, then offering the supporting details. Bottom Up communication is laying the foundation details first, then building up to the conclusion. Of course, my style is the former and my partner’s style is the latter. He can understand my style quite well, unfortunately his style sounds the death knell for someone who is attentionally challenged like me. Squirrel! Witness a recent conversation: He begins “I was talking to Joe today, he’s the one who’s been with the company for 15 years. His wife, Patti, runs the meetings oftentimes. We were talking about the meetings. Usually we meet in Appleton at the hotel. I was saying that I thought with only a few people showing up at the meetings…last week it was 2 and the week before it was 3…not enough people to make it worthwhile to meet. If we had, like, 15 that would make it worthwhile. Anyway, Joe agreed with me that it wasn’t enough people, so we were talking about possibly holding the meetings at their house for a while until we build back up more attendance”.
By the time he arrives at the end, I am so totally lost and exhausted from trying to track where he’s going, my response is usually a glazed-over stare. And, in the process, I’ve usually lost most of those details as I try to gather each new detail to add to the hopper. Since I’ve recently been able to articulate my difficulties with this process, he’s been making an effort to “cut to the chase”, give me the destination first, then go back and draw me the map. Whew!
2. Buried Gold: this is the pattern of giving a useful and important piece of information in the middle of more mundane conversation. For example, “I talked to Jenny today and she said that Owen is cutting his first tooth. I’m going to run to the store after work to grab some things we need. Don’t forget next week the car has an oil change appointment. Any ideas what you’d like for dinner tonight?” Did you notice the nugget in there? You are now responsible for taking the car for an oil change, but you don’t know when or where. And, it’s quite possible you didn’t even register that task being added to your To Do list.
There are several ways to clear up this communication. First, making the communication more active would help. Solicit a response from the person who is being assigned the task by asking “Can you add that to your To Do list?” or “What are your thoughts on that?” Second, you might already have an external cueing system such as a calendar. My partner and I share a Google calendar with my items in pink and his in green. Stating that something will be added to the calendar, such as the oil change, can assist in making sure those tasks don’t get missed.
3. The Blame Game: the hallmark cue that this pattern is about to happen is the introduction of the word “YOU”, as in “You forgot to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer”. Typically when a communication begins with “YOU”, the party to whom that is directed shifts into a defensive posture, “I did NOT forget; I just didn’t get around to it yet!”
A simple way to step away from the Blame Game is to put the communication into the form of a question that begins with “I”. For example, “I’m wondering if you forgot to move the laundry?” The question format allows for the other party to clarify what really happened and is less likely to flip them into defensiveness.
These are just a few ideas that may help you improve your communication. Give them a test drive and see what you notice.