I remember my boss at the time once asking another member of staff to bring him the report on his clients by the end of the week, in the middle of talking to me. Dave said: ‘Yes, of course,’ and carried on to wherever he was going. My boss turned back to me and said: ‘He won’t, you know..’ And he didn’t. And the boss was angry with him. Yet he knew that the verbal agreement was not what was really going on with Dave.

Do you recognise this syndrome? I have since seen it repeated many times, and it still seems daft to me that we will all sometimes accept words alone as being the communication with us, and then complain because the words were not fulfilled.

If we take a moment or two to notice what’s really going on with the person, we can respond to their full communication. The tone of voice, the language used, the manner of speaking all give us more information about how that person is, and how they are reacting to us, or the particular message. Their body language tells us even more. That ‘knowing’ that my boss had, was because he had picked up more information about Dave’s response, yet he chose to ignore it, to everyone’s cost.

In that instance, Dave was distracted and about to go into an important coaching session, and he just forgot. It could have been that he was unsure how to do the report, or already feeling he had too much to do, or resenting the way in which the boss had asked him. We don’t necessarily know why we’re getting a mixed message from someone, just that it is a mixed message.

If we take the time to notice what’s going on, and check it out, we can do something about it. We can ask them if there’s a problem, and if we can help with it. That way we can avoid the likelihood of failure on one side, or resentment and annoyance on the other.

And of course, if we know we are the one giving a mixed message, we could take the time to say: ‘I’ll do my best, but I’m really busy this week, and I’m not sure how I’ll fit it in’, or: ‘Can you put a note on my computer – I’m just going into a meeting and I might forget.’ Or whatever may clarify our response.

Words are great and we can’t do without them, but they are never the full message. Just take a moment to notice what’s really going on, and you can save yourself a lot of extra hassle.

About Jo Clarkson

Jo Clarkson is the CEO of Meta and a frequent writer of the blog.
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