After a trip to Flaming Gorge UT, a friend and I explored an area near Dinosaur in northwestern Colorado. We drove along the Green River to Brown’s Park, also known as Brown’s Hole, a favorite hideout for Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang. We came to a narrow, single-lane bridge, which of course we just had to cross.
As we approached the bridge, we saw a sign at the entrance that said, “Weight Limit 3 Tons”. So I casually asked my friend, “Just out of curiosity, how much does your truck weight?” And he said, “With you and me in it? About 6800 lbs.”
I laughed as he started to cross the bridge and asked, “Do you really think we should be doing this?”
He gripped the steering wheel a little bit tighter and said, “Yeah, we’ll be okay. I’m an optimist.”
So I held my breath as we drove forward. S L O W L Y.
Cables on the suspension bridge began to hum and the wooden planks curled up around the tires. I peered out my window at the swirling water below, wondering how cold it was. Then I heard a noise from the other side of the truck. So I looked over at my friend…
…he had lifted up the steering wheel, unbuckled his seat belt and rolled down his window!
Holy cow! We’re goin’ down!
Hmmm, what to believe, words or actions?
Ever get mixed messages from friends, family, customers or co-workers?
When it comes to interpersonal communication, we want people to be congruent in speech and action. The principle, “Walk your talk” is recommended so we can become better leaders or parents. In fact it’s such a common saying that people poke fun at themselves by urging, “Do what I say, NOT what I do”.
Researchers have found we filter out or morph the meaning of 70% of messages we hear. We tend to focus on parts of the message that supports our position, desires and goals. And we may also disregard critical elements of the message that seem minor but contain the essence of the person’s true intent.
Because of that bias, it’s easy to miscommunicate. We can’t peer into someone’s head to see what they really mean. So if we care, we often try to compile clues from what they say and do.
It helps if we have some history working with the other person – some kind of relationship. The more trust we’ve built, the easier it is to decipher someone’s motivation. We cut them more slack. But even among those who have a long track record with one another, misunderstandings can still occur.
APPLICATION AND ACTION STEPS
So, to reduce the risk of getting crossways with people too often:
- Tell them your intent and motivation: My intent is to maintain our friendship
- Identify the outcome you seek: I want to get this project done on time
- Clarify the position you hold: I’m not crazy about this idea
- Point out roadblocks that could derail understanding: I tend to be easily distracted
- Ask them to repeat your statement back: What did you just hear me say?
- Define what reality/certainty means to you: I’m certain we can reach 80% of our revenue goal
- Define what hope/possibility means to you: I think it’s possible to exceed our goal by 20%
- Consider your personal listening style: Appreciative, Empathic, Discerning, Comprehensive or Evaluative
Next, to improve communication within your team, board, family or with customers, ask:
- What behaviors and messages do I tend to misunderstand from others?
- What do I say or do that others misinterpret?
Exploring those triggers will help you build bridges rather than undermine relationships.
Are you wondering if we made it across the river? Thankfully, WE did.
But this guy sure didn’t!