Workplace Wisdom

Are You Aware of the Contradictions in Your Messaging?

On a two-way, two lane stretch of road in the Berkshires, the kind that’s dotted with numerous one- and two-story industrial and commercial buildings, we passed a structure that had a large local bank logo on the front, and in front of that, a large sign that said, emphatically:

OPERATIONS CENTER

Not a banking office

I wish I had been quick enough to take a photo.

Do you act in ways that announce that you’re not really what your other messaging claims you are? For instance:

  • You’re helpful and supportive — when in reality you’re merely pleasant? Is the truth that, although you appear sympathetic and understanding, you never actually share anyone’s load or provide any kind of assistance to help get them through a tough time?
  • You’re collaborative — even though you’re really just congenial and agreeable? In other words, despite hearing your colleagues out and even contributing a few ideas of your own, you’re actually working to avoid responsibility or trying to expand your own turf or sphere of influence?
  • You’re committed to the team’s goals and processes — when you don’t actually care that much, so even though you show up to meetings and seem to concur with team decisions, you’re actually a walking example of passive aggressiveness? Are you doing damage by not declaring your true opinions and letting others rely on your false representation of your views? Are you being noncompliant behind the scenes, or being maliciously compliant in ways that actually cause harm?

How confusing!

Language Is the Least of It

Smart parents learn that if they look amused and indulgent rather than stern and disapproving when they scold a smart little three-year-old who’s creating some kind of entertaining but inappropriate disturbance, the kid will pick up on the amusement and affection and “edit out” the disapproving language.

Any mismatch between appearance and language forces us to choose which inputs we’re going to accept, and we almost never accept the explanation that’s contradicted by our other more robust and reliable filters for risk, threat, warning, and danger.

Consider this example:

“No, I’m not angry!” the executive practically sputters, face reddening and eyebrows reaching for the sky. “I’m just a little concerned about…”

Would you believe the exec’s words? Or would you believe your own eyes? If you want to be heard and heeded, make sure your messaging is consistent with your meaning.

Onward and upward,

LK

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