My gym is located in the Village, a high-end shopping center in Woodland Hills California. The modern architecture, outdoor seating, and high-quality shops make it one of the nicest malls I’ve ever been to. However, every time I head into the parking structure, I see this sign and lose some respect.
Next to each other are two signs. One says “Breathe Deep” because the Village, like all California business, are smoke-free. Next to it is a warning about the danger of carcinogenic fumes from the often-filled structure.
I think my favorite mall may be trying to kill me.
Mixed MessagesI don’t understand the benefit of the non-smoking sign. Are they just trying to say it’s against the law to smoke in the structure? Or do they truly believe that it’s healthy for me to take full inhales while walking to my car? Perhaps there is some byzantine mystery to be discovered? Regardless, I am filled with absolute confusion about what they are trying to communicate.
My first love of communication came from the immense amount of media that I consumed as a child. I love the fast-talking, no-nonsense diatribes that my heroes could speak without a moment of fear. I absorbed Robin Williams’ comedy, Henry Rollins’ spoken word, David and Maddie’s (TV’s Moonlighting) banter, and the multi-level talk of other great actors.
I loved the power of using words to get your thoughts across and the endeavor to match them. My mentor, Ray, taught me the foundations of the meta-message and my business partner gave me the basics of semantics. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Communication has become my bread and butter skill, and with all my research, I’ve found something disturbing: People are mediocre communicators. We’re just not trained to get our points across, and if there is ever a more prevalent, lazy, ubiquitous crime, it is in that of “the mixed message.”
“They just doesn’t understand me.”
There are many great resources when it comes to the differences between how men and women communicate. We can start with John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, check in with Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand or learn from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. However, there is a specific thought I want to share with you.
Most people think they are not sending mixed messages when in reality they are transmitting more than they think.
Semantics teaches us that there are three parts to every communication.
The Content – the words we speak or type.
The Intonation – the speed, pitch, and frequency of our voice or the emoticons we use to mimic it.
The Intention – the conscious or unconscious motivation of the communication
When all three items line up, we have a significantly higher chance of our communication being clear.
For example, if I scream at the top of my lungs to my server at my favorite restaurant, “GET ME A GLASS OF MILK!!!”, I don’t suspect that I will be getting my beverage any time soon. In fact, I might be asked to leave the restaurant.
If I say to someone I’m angry at with slitted eyes and red cheeks, “I love you so much,” the person will probably not believe me. This is called cognitive dissidence, and it can cause disconnection, anger, and malice from the person receiving your words.
As our usage of technology increases, we are spending less energy ensuring that we are sending pristine communications. We speak in mad, hurried, incomplete sentences with typo’s, grammar issues, and lack of awareness of the impact of our words. We don’t take the time to consider the overall message, and we expect the receiver to figure out our meaning.
We’ve lost the power of our voice intonation and our facial gestures. We are throwing our DM’s, PM’s, tweets, emails and text messages like paper airplanes in high winds.
The main problem I’ve found in my coaching practice is that people are disconnected from knowing their true INTENTION. They miss the basic step of slowing down and feeling their feelings. They believe that apologizing is easier than asking for permission. They put the onus of the other holding us rather than taking on the responsibility of taking care of them. They are often lazy and arrogant. This is all of us to different extents.
In my world, the responsibility of the communication is on the communicator. It is our job to ensure that our intended communication lands and that we receive an acknowledgment from the listener.
We need to improve our word choice, speak in fuller sentences, slow down, and do more frequent check-in’s. It is time to stop depending on a text message to solve conflicts and confront things head on. It is time to stop hiding behind our excuses and electronic devices.
The choice is yours. It’s time to stop blaming others. I suspect we can all feel that we’re moving in the wrong direction when it comes to deliberate communication.
I would recommend first upping your skills and then demanding the same of your intimate friends. There is so much intimacy at stake, and your attention is mandatory for our next evolution.
Three concrete steps you can take are:
- Stop text messages. If possible, have a face to face conversation (in-person best, skype or zoom better) or at least use your cellular device to use its verbal function (i.e., make a damn phone call)
- Slow down and determine your actual motivations for the communication
- Do a check if the content and intonation actually match that intention. If you’re not clear, simply ask (via phone or face-to-face) Check and see if the content and intonation match your intention. If you’re not clear, ask for feedback.
- Continue to practice.