Every spring I find myself in front of around 150 fourth and fifth graders teaching them the basics about storm water pollution at the annual Water Festival hosted at our local community college. This is such a fun age to teach as the kids are totally engaged as they still thrive on learning as much as they can.
That morning, I had just finished getting the full-scale model ready to go for the presentation and was spending a bit of time in the hallway reading a variety of the American history boards that blanketed the walls. There are photos of various historical events from the Great Depression, Dust Bowl and World War II. As I was reading one of the captions I noticed that a young lady was walking toward me down the narrow hall. Thinking that she was also one of the presenters for this event I continued looking at the photos while making the comment “These pictures are amazing, I could spend all day looking at them.” Without turning to make eye contact, I expected that out of courtesy of my engaging commentary that she would respond with something similar like “me too, I’m amazed at the quality of these pictures and the stories the tell.” But alas, she made absolutely no comment at all and just kept walking by.
Immediately I thought to myself that she was a very self indulged individual or more likely just another introverted engineer that trembled at the fear of actually talking directly to someone. Thankfully, I have a good enough self-image so I didn’t get to depressed over her lack of interaction. I just chalked it up to a lack of personality and proceeded to my assigned classroom to begin my presentation.
My great epiphany came about an hour later when I happened to be walking down this same hall. She was walking directly toward me but this time another lady was with her. What happened next opened my eyes to see and feel in an instant a sense of remorse, compassion, guilt and yet another opportunity to enjoy the bitter taste of some humble pie. You see, she was speaking in sign language with the lady next to her. Just like that, I could now understand what I could not see. She wasn’t being rude to me; she simply didn’t “hear” me – because she was hearing impaired.
How often do we think we are communicating with others and let ourselves get all bent out of shape because the other person didn’t respond the way WE thought they should respond? I think of all the ways that I could have treated this particular lady if I didn’t happen to see her signing to her friend. I probably would have ignored her. Reciprocated with a little arrogance or rudeness, completely making a negative judgment upon her – and she would be completely oblivious to the reason why I was acting this way.
In this day and age with multiple venues for communicating with others, it’s easy to think that just because you are talking, others are listening. There have been emails and voice messages that I’ve sent without any reply. On a few occasions, it’s turned out that the other person never got my message due to some technological issue. So, be slow to judge others. Clarify and allow them the opportunity to explain before you cast dispersions upon them. I frequently will say things like “you may not have gotten my message…” instead of “hey I sent you a message, why haven’t you responded?” The second approach is more accusatory and immediately puts the other person on the defensive. If you really value the relationship, expect the best of others by allowing them the opportunity to apologize instead of driving a wedge between the two of you.
Just because you’re talking; it doesn’t mean others are listening. Have you ever been communicating with no response only to realize they didn’t get the message?