May 1, 2011

Mean What You Say and Say What You Mean

This time I wanted to write about three communication issues. These might be related to cultural differences or to the way we were brought up. No matter what the cause is, I think it is worth thinking about these behaviors:

How are you.
And continuing to walk without really caring about the response.

This is one of the things that annoyed me the most when I moved to the US: People walk by you, saying “hi, how are you” (note that there’s no question mark!) and just continue to walk without really stopping by to hear your answer. I thought that it is very rude, why do people ask if they don’t care about my answer??? Well, of course people do not intend to insult. This is how people greet each other here, and it took me a while to understand it and not to be personally offended. However, I would like to suggest an alternative: if we are in such a hurry, and don’t have time to hear how people are doing, just say “Hi, good to see you”.

I think that we should care about other people and how they are doing, conversation is important and good, asking “how are you?” is great, but if you ask it, do be kind enough to pause and hear the response. Or just don’t ask at all.

Professor Sandy Pentland of the MIT Media Lab wrote an entire book on Honest Signals. Here is a quote I took from the Signaling Theory wikipedia page: “Biological signals, like warning calls or resplendent tail feathers, are considered honest if they are correlated with, or reliably predict, something useful to the receiver. In this usage, honesty is a useful correlation between the signal trait (which economists call ”public information” because it is readily apparent) and the unobservable thing of value to the receiver”

In the name of politeness people are signaling DIS-honest signals. Many explain that they don’t want to hurt feelings of the person that they are speaking with and therefore mask it with smiles and kind words. How are we supposed to interpret body language and words that are masked?! For example, people who have a bad interview but receive positive feedback just so they don't feel bad, do not have a clue that they really did badly, and they cannot improve. Wouldn’t it be better to be honest? I am not suggesting to be rude by all means (!) but I think that we can and should know how to handle honest feedback, and it could help us improve.

Direct = Aggressive (?!)
Last week I was speaking with a few people who explained to me how direct communication can be perceived as aggressiveness. I refuse to play the “pretend” game. I want people to be clear and direct with me in the way we communicate, without masks. I am trying to be honest and direct too. I think it will remove a lot of noise and confusion if we all just be honest and direct with each other. We will not have to invest so much energy in rephrasing every word and painting everything with shiny colors. It’s not about aggressiveness, which I don't promote, but I perceive indirect loop-arounds and masks of fake-politeness as unnecessary overhead that weighs-down communication and could distract from the actual content being communicated.

And that's my bottom line. Mean what you say, and say what you mean.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff M! You have permission to kick me next time I demonstrate any of these behaviors.