The date was going fine, till I said something idiotic. We were in college, and as we stepped outside, dead of winter, Boston, Ellen complained about the cold.
Instead of simply agreeing—it was freezing—I commented about "cold" being very psychological. And relative.
I also may have mentioned Antarctica.
In the shiver of a second, "weather," the easiest ice-breaker in the world, turned into a conversation-killer.
That's no small feat. But Ellen was unimpressed.
Weather, like everything else in life, is both objective & subjective. That's why weather.com gives you both the actual temperature, plus what it "feels like."
I picture a meteorologist at weather.com, trying her best each day to record the precise temp. (Antarctica, -129°F), but always getting pushback: "It can't possibly be -129°," someone argues. "It feels more like -130°."
At work, the split between "actual" and "felt" experience puts communication at risk, like a bad date.
Consider some examples (real):
1) Person A says: The boss wants to see you right away.
B hears: The boss wants to fire me right away.
Actual: The boss has an urgent problem, needs help.
2) A says: This decision is a no-brainer.
B hears: You think I have no brains.
Actual: Let's make this decision and move on.
3) A (the boss) asks: Are you happy here?
B hears: I don't fit in.
Actual: The company wants managers to monitor employee satisfaction.
4) A (returning from a leadership offsite) says: All options are on the table.
B hears: The company's about to go bust.
Actual: The company is exploring new sources of revenue.
5) A says: That's very good work, especially for someone at your level.
B hears: I'm at a very low level, it's embarrassing.
Actual: The work exceeded expectations, especially for a new hire.
6) A (scientist) says: I disagree with your interpretation of the data.
B (scientist) hears: I'm wrong. I'm incompetent.
Actual: There's another way to look at this data.
7) A (the boss) says: If we don't meet our production targets, someone's going to lose their job.
B hears: You're threatening me. (Who wouldn't hear that?)
Actual: Boss was told that his job was in jeopardy.
Tip: Before you get triggered by what someone said, check what she said—it may be different than what you heard.
© Copyright 2012 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.