Ouch! That Hurt!

Communication can be rife with misunderstanding and hurt feelings!
Communication can be rife with misunderstanding and hurt feelings!

It amazes me sometimes the things that are said and done by people, supposedly for the help and benefit of others, but which are frankly rude, hurtful and/or damaging. I have recently been a witness to a very unpleasant exchange that has arisen between two “friends” and it is a stark reminder that intentions, motivations, values and perspectives can be very different and play a powerful role in our communications with others. In an exchange of emails one of the participants sought to take a rational path, clarifying perspective by stating their intentions, explaining their motivations, and seeking open dialogue to work through any misunderstanding. Everything was written from an “I feel…” or “My intention was…” perspective. The response was condemning and written as “It is obvious you felt…”, “I know your intentions were…” and fascinatingly accused the first person of being aggressive. I was involved as a coach to the first person, in this instance not to help the relationship but to work through the issues and achieve some positive personal outcome for the hurting individual.

Communications with others is full of opportunity for misunderstanding. In entering a dialogue with others we bring a wealth of personal experience, cultural and personal values, aspirations and intentions, and personality styles. We may be quiet and aloof, bold and brash, warm and welcoming, or any number of other possibilities. And then there is how we view the other and what they have to offer a given situation. Even on a good day, when we put real thought and effort into what we are communicating, and in thinking through how best to present our message, there are misfires, and there can be major breakdowns and misunderstandings. If we fire off messages in an emotional frenzy the likelihood of a positive outcome is LOW.

Relevant to the example I introduced, some principles in communicating that can help create a positive outcome are:

Choose the appropriate medium for your communication. Is it appropriate? Will it maximise your chances of sending a clear, unconfused message that will be understood by the recipients. Do not fall into the trap of believing that sending a clear message means it will be understood. Breakdowns in communication can and do occur with the sender and/or the receiver at any given time.

When communicating the message we send is conveyed 55% non-verbally (i.e. through body language), 38% vocally (e.g. our tone and where we place emphasis) and 7% through the words we use. How many of us resort to using email as our primary means for communicating? We have already reduced our bandwidth for information to 7% of what is possible, assuming we send the perfect message. If you consider the TXTing mentality that is now so prevalent, with its encrypted messages, short forms that are not equally understood, and lack of punctuation, the ability to communicate can only be reduced further still.

If what you need to convey is important or there are sensitive issues or emotional issues around the content, carefully consider a face-to-face meeting which maximises the possibility for understanding, or a phone call that at least maintains verbal content as well as the words.

We live in an information age AND we are really appalling communicators. Don’t let technology lull you into a false sense of comfort about the message you are sending or that the recipients are receiving. What you send as a message IS NOT necessarily what they receive!

Neutralise Emotion – internally and expressed. When hurt or angry, walk away and wait a day to respond, if possible (not so easy in a face-to-face situation, but still may be a valid option). As a minimum, take a deep breath, find your own centre of balance and consciously choose the outcome you want from a message you are sending before speaking or writing.

Own your own feelings and express them as “I feel…” There is no condemnation of the other person if you own your feelings and express them as yours. Of course if you state they made you feel something you are hitting a difficulty. Remember: no one else can make you feel anything. You choose your feelings. The choosing may not be obvious but it is true. For example, someone hits you. How do you feel? It depends. If the person is or has a history of aggression towards you, says “I hate you” and punches you in the face the result may be anger. If a person is thrashing around on the floor in an epileptic fit and in the throes of their fit their fist hits you in the face, you may feel startled, possibly some compassion, but are less likely to feel angry. Circumstance, perspective and values contribute to the feelings you experience. They are your feelings. No one else made you feel them. Something happened. You interpreted the situation. A signal was generated from your brain and a feeling experienced. By owning your feelings you have a choice of changing them and of harnessing them to enhance your personal power.

Assign your own importance to feedback received. Most of us want others to be happy with us. We learn from the moment we are born that if we please others we are more likely to get what we want, or at least have a better experience of life. When we learn that someone is displeased with us the reaction can be pronounced as we struggle with our apparent failing. From this perspective we place a high value on negative feedback, and often overlook and quickly dismiss the positive.

An important phase of personal growth is when we shift our measures of success as a person internally and base it on our intentions, our motivations, the values we hold and outcomes we sought, and less on what others say to and about us, negative or positive. With a solid internal touchstone, we can receive external assessments of who we are, how we are viewed and judged, and compare them against our own assessment. Consider there may be truth in anything we receive, but not necessarily, and do not accept negative (or even positive) feedback simply because it has been given.

Feedback can be provided for a variety of reasons. For example:

  • to offer constructive critique
  • to create motivation to change
  • to unsettle and create opportunity for a victory
  • to be spiteful and deliberately hurtful.

Just because feedback has been given by someone does not mean you have to receive it. Positive feedback from someone greasing your palms because they want something is of less value than honest negative feedback from any source. When we are still caught in the need for external approval we like to be surrounded by those who shower us with adoration and struggle when negative comments are made. We may feel devastated when false accusations or assaults on our character are made. As we internalise the touchstone for personal assessment, and we base approval on our values etc, feedback from others becomes information to receive, consider, discard or keep and use as appropriate. I have learned that my integrity does not always need defending. I used to vociferously defend any accusation made against me, felt terrible that someone could consider I was “bad”, and then one day an acquaintance said, “Why do you need to defend your integrity?” Wow! That took me back. I realised that I did out of a feeling of inadequacy and lack of self-esteem. Sometimes integrity does need defending. That is what positive use of anger is all about, but sometimes it is enough to know I am integral and in knowing that the other person has no power over me in that instance.

Next time you receive a message, verbal, written or TXTed that inflames you:

  • Consider what result you want from your response
  • Neutralise your emotion in forming and sending the response
  • Consciously determine the merits and significance of any personal feedback received. Keep the worthwhile and discard the dross.

In all circumstances, consider meeting face-to-face or at least picking up a phone rather than relying only on such ineffective communications media as email or TXTing.

May all your communications be fog free! These are some ways of creating and maintaining clarity in communications with the people you interact with.

Walking the Talk

It is all well and good espousing a way of being, and suggesting there is power available as we engage with others in a love-based responsive way and not from a fear-based reactive mode but putting the philosophy into action can sometimes be really challenging. Recently I hit one of those “character building” episodes.

Hair-pulling turmoil
Hair-pulling turmoil

Having spent significant energy redesigning and redeveloping my business web site I met a series of roadblocks to going live that related to supplier misrepresentation or incompetence. One example was a hosting provider, before sign up, stating I would be able to load my site and test it prior to going live. This proved false. After signing up I loaded my site and was then told, on asking how, that I could not view the site without changing my domain pointer to the new site, effectively putting my untested site live and taking the live site on-line. Misrepresentation!

Having found a suitable hosting provider and being ready to go live I then approached my original, then current, provider and indicated the steps I wished to follow for an ordered transition. On their recommendation I decided to leave my Domain Name Server (DNS) record with them. When I cancelled my hosting account, in line with their recommended change to my approach, they destroyed my DNS record. I had no email or web site. All gone.

Within hours of losing my email and web site I flew out-of-town with my wife on a holiday to attend a wedding and had significantly reduced capacity to follow-up and pursue a solution. I found myself anxious, furious and frustrated, with bouts of powerlessness and helplessness. I work in the IT and Telecommunications industries. If I were to cause a client severe (or any) inconvenience or was negligent in any way then I would be held liable, and would be expected to resolve any issues with all expediency. Not so for a large supplier with a small client. They showed no interest in resolving the situation, and had plenty of excuses. I found my emotional turmoil magnified. It turned out that I was without a web site and email for five days. The provider updated my file to include “sorry” but there was no personal acknowledgement.

At the height of this crisis I was totally without my power, consumed and crippled with emotional turmoil, leaving me in a highly reactive, fear-based state. What to do? This was a thoroughly unhelpful and unproductive way of being. I could not positively resolve my hosting issues, and was not enjoying my holiday.
In my book “Appreciate the Fog” I write about power-based, thrive responses (Assert, Attend, Act and Authenticate) that are positive alternatives to the fear-based, survival reactions (Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fabricate). I was well and truly reactive, not really even surviving. The key question for me was “How do I reclaim my power?”

For me, in that moment, awareness that I needed to shift was key. My second aid was to share my struggle and that I wanted to reclaim my power with my wife. She listened, allowed me to vent as a way of clearing myself emotionally, and then asked, “So what can you do now?” Great coach! Within minutes I was in a place of clarity, had taken a couple of small actions that positively moved things a little and I was largely free of my turmoil. I had reclaimed my power, and I had a great weekend. Yes, I still had to wait for the Telco monster to take their steps and resolve their incompetence, but I did so in a better place than if I had remained worked up. It can be difficult walking the talk, but it is worthwhile.

Birthday Reflections

Unrelenting Magnificence - Each day is a new birth
Unrelenting Magnificence – Each day is a new birth

Yesterday (January 29th) was a fantastic day. The weather was hot with a clear blue sky. I took a day off from an otherwise busy work month so prosperity, utility and leisure felt beautifully balanced. I spent the day with my darling Juanita, and had the pleasure of lots of birthday wishes flowing in. I had breakfast at a beach café, enjoyed a massage, and was taken out to dinner. All in all, I had a fantastic day.

The main reflection of my day was how blessed I am in terms of the relationships I have. I have a fantastic wife who is my friend, confidant, fan, and fills so many other fabulous roles. I have friends and family who I enjoy in my life, who I can and do turn to in times of challenge, and from whom I receive unique blessings and gifts because of their presence. The quality of my relationships can also be measured by the progress I have made with some that have been difficult, or how some unexpected difficulties within some of these relationships have been addressed and worked with.

As I look back over the past year it has been one of the toughest, most challenging I have ever experienced, with significant hurdles on a number of fronts that covered various aspects of my identity – father, partner, active and healthy man, and productive contributor to name a few – and for much of the time I had no idea how it could work out positively. I did hold a belief that it would. The key really has been founded in the quality of the relationships I have and trusting that whatever I was facing I would learn, grow and benefit from, and that I would ultimately thrive.

I am also very aware of the Buddhist concept of impermanence summarised as “and this too will change.” Nothing is permanent. Everything is fleeting. Whether suffering or joy, pain or pleasure, it will change. There are no guarantees about when, how or in which direction change will occur, only that everything will change. At the end of this very wonderful day I get to celebrate that regardless of what yesterday has been, and without knowing what tomorrow brings, I am alive in this moment, and I feel fantastic. How many fantastic moments can I string together through the web of experience that makes up my life? How can frame those moments I don’t enjoy into something I do appreciate and make meaningful, and move them closer to being experienced as fantastic? Can I approach every day in serenity and with appreciation for the fact I have life in me? That is indeed a challenge worth living for.

Survive vs. Thrive

When you are experiencing fear, even if unconscious of it, the tendency is to contract and strengthen protections around you. Much of this process is unconscious and the patterns so ingrained that you don’t even know it is happening. There are some broad categories of fear-based reaction, which I generically refer to as Survive Reactions, fight and flight are very instinctual, based in the amygdala of the brain. Freeze and fabricate are higher brain level reactions. These all carry a short-term focus, are reactionary and at best could be considered tactical. Thrive Responses are based on consciously making choices that are longer-term focused, are based on love rather than fear, and have the potential of creating positive results into the future. The individual thrive responses are assert, attend, act, and authenticate. By recognising when a survive reaction is being used, you can develop a capacity to intercede and choose a thrive response, and create different results. Through practice in developing awareness and owning your ability to choose your own actions, your quality of life can change and your personal power will increase.