Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Communicating is Overrated

"Communicating is Overrated." This was yesterday's topic at an Al-Anon meeting I decided at the last minute to attend.

We laughed our tails off in the meeting. We went around the room saying and admitting that we either "said too much" or "shouldn't have responded at all."

I took particular note of several remarks and I would like to share them in today's blog post.

  • As we become more skilled with Al-Anon tools, sometimes we use this new knowledge to control, but just it a little more subtly. Interesting I thought. No not me! But yes, me too.
  • Sometimes we respond when in reality the other person just wants to talk. One senior member, someone I respect because of his wisdom, said, "When someone talks, I ask them if they are looking for input from me or if they want a response. I was surprised how often people told me they weren't looking for a response." Interesting. I often respond, thinking that of course they want my opinion.
  • I told the group that I get paid to give my opinion. So it's hard to stop. They laughed. I also told them of a story at work, that saved me. See the story below.
  • One person said, she has gotten her emails to be very tight and succinct. "When they ask for a phone number in the email, I just send the phone number. No more fluff and no more other words than the digits. Now," she said, "I need to work on that with how I talk."

My Story

There was this person who was mad at everyone in our division. Some how she turned her anger on me. I became the target of her hostility. It was apparent we couldn't work together. She would attack my knowledge in meetings subtly and overtly.

Soon there was a meeting to occur. It was to get us both in "alignment." To end the bickering.

Several management people attended, including our boss and another key leader. The conversation was directed toward who was responsible for what and determine if there was confusion and overlap. It was very sensible.

Then she fired a shot, "Joe and his team don't do this and don't do that." I sat there. I sat quietly, mouth shut, eyes open. Her words rang out loud like a howitzer blast. The echo in the room still reverberating off the walls.

The management team continued with writing the things that needed to be done on the whiteboard and flip charts. Then, out of the blue, another blast, "Joe doesn't do this. And when he does, he doesn't do it well. I sat there. Stomach churned for a second. But I was silent. The words hung in the air with no place to go. They were big fat words of anger. They fell upon the table.

Again this went on several more times, until we broke for lunch. I walked with one of the top leaders and I said, "Just for the record, I took a couple of shots, and I chose not to respond. I am not going to respond, unless you feel otherwise." This President's response was, "It has been noted that you did not respond. I would appreciate it if would continue to not respond."

After lunch a few more shots. But this time, the shot from this one person, were being directed by others not in the room. This went on until 5PM. And when the management team said, "OK, here's what we are going to do . . . " this women closed her laptop, slammed her briefcase on the table and got up and left. She was very angry.

The management team broke up, and the next thing I knew was that the President came to me and said that this person will no longer be with the company by Friday. "Her team will report to you next week," he said.

The "old Joe" would have responded to the attacks. Something, maybe Al-Anon training, helped me take a different tact. The less direct route, which was the silence, was deafening.

It was a lesson I have never forgotten. I do not need to respond to everything.

As my good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson said once, "What you are shouts so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying." It is a good reminder for me.

PS - Just to be clear, I was not there when Ralph said this.

1 comment:

Syd said...

My favorite saying is "I never miss an opportunity to keep my mouth shut". It works.