“Do not waste yourself in rejection;
do not bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face,
you should go home and examine your conscience.”
When I was a kid, I lived down the street from a house surrounded by a fence. Behind the fence were bushes that ran along the perimeter of the yard as well. One year, behind the bushes…was a dog. Every time I rode my bike past the yard, the dog would chase along on the other side of the fence hidden by the bushes, barking as he ran. He sounded big and vicious and I always rode by as quickly as I could. I was afraid the dog would come through the fence and drag me back into the yard, never to be seen again.
As time went on, the bushes thinned out and I came to find the dog wasn’t nearly as big as he sounded or as vicious. Actually, he was quite friendly and I began to make a point of stopping every time I’d pass by to pet him and talk to him. He’d wag his tail and truly look happy to see me. In the beginning, all I heard was the barking. He never sounded friendly. However, once we saw each other he barked less and wagged his tail more and I was more at ease and comfortable establishing a relationship. On one hand, he was protecting his turf. On the other hand, he just wanted some attention.
So Many People, So Little “Real” Contact
These days communication suffers from the increased absence of personal interaction. Texting and email allow us to communicate more frequently but lack the context present in face-to-face exchanges. Consequently, when we do have the opportunity to communicate in person, it is more important than ever to connect and do so effectively. Some communications establish first impressions; others relate important feelings, opinions and other information. The tone of our voice (or email/text/tweet) influences the quality of our communication.
Communicating person-to-person has its own pitfalls akin to the barking dog. Often our tone or body language compromise what we say. A raised voice can distract from what we want to communicate, as can crossed arms or rolled eyes. It can be the human version of a bark. For managers that tend to appear in person only at those times something has gone wrong, poor attention to delivery only accentuates the negative aspects of their communication and creates the picture in everyone’s mind that he or she is negative, angry and has nothing good to say about anyone or anything. They can be the equivalent of the barking dog. When they do attempt a needed communication, they are dismissed because no one is listening to the content because all they hear is the delivery. Grrrrrr…
At other times, the “barkers” are ineffective simply because folks stop listening to them. They deliver every communication urgently, angrily or in other ways that compromise the attempt at sharing information. Picture the Boy Who Cried Wolf or Charlie Brown’s teacher…waa, waa, waa – waa, waa, waa, waa.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit in during a recording session for a radio series. As I listened to the voice actors practicing and recording their lines, they expended a great deal of effort getting the tone and meaning just right. Frequently an actor was asked to do two, three or more takes of one line in search of the sought after delivery. As one individual spoke his lines, I listened to him recite one line no fewer than eight times. Each of his recitations had a different intonation, accented a different word or changed volume. His efforts provided several nuanced ways of saying the same line, which provided a different context each time. I was impressed with the effort the actors put into communicating their lines just right to assure the story unfolded as the writer and director intended. We should all take note and be that intentional about how we talk to, email, text and tweet others.
Wag or Woof
Next time you have the opportunity to talk with a co-worker think about how you come across. No matter if you’re talking about production, work performance or the weather, listen to yourself and how you communicate.
During discussions where emotions can be high, be aware of yours. Don’t let them prevent communication from taking place. Don’t allow them to make you bark. If the other individual’s dander is up, don’t let them get to you as well. The successful delivery of the information you wish to communicate or the point you want to make relies on your ability to allow the other person every opportunity to hear you rather than fear you.
Next month: How Do You Smell?