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?

Posted in Blog
One comment on “Communication
  1. Joe Juergensen says:

    John, I really appreciate everything that you have written so far. I am completely on board with this subject matter and feel that there is a ton of potential to grow this discussion and develop these principals of positive personality traits.

    I have a strong passion for the value of the relationships. By definition a relationship is “a connection between people.” I think that there is so much that comes from our connection and experiences with other people.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt was quoted in saying: “Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships… …the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world, at peace.”

    I am definitely not an expert in relationships, but I know that everything of meaning or value in my life has come from my relationships, or connection, with the people in my life. Every memory, every story, every emotion are a result of our relationships with those around us. Not stuff, but people.

    The occurrence that you wrote about on September 15th, 2012 hit home with me as I had a very similar experience. You see I try to get myself into the gym in the mornings before work and tend to see the same faces day in and day out. This is generally a time that I spend alone in my thoughts, but there is usually a little chitchat that goes on with the other regulars. There was this one guy who rarely smiled and never engaged in any of my halfhearted pleasantries. His rejection of my presence all came to a head one day when we were both sitting in the sauna together and I asked how he was doing. In response to my inquiry, he just got up and walked out without saying a word. I was thinking, what is the matter with this guy? And he really needs to lighten up?

    A week or so later, I happened to be entering the gym just before this same guy. I held the door for him and he said “thank you”. However, as he uttered these words, I noticed that his words were broken as a result of what seemed to be a significant speech impairment. So his reluctance to engage in conversation was not because he had an attitude problem. He just didn’t want to have to deal with his impairment during his personal time at the gym. At that realization, it was painfully obvious that all my previous negative judgments towards this guy were based on my own misconceptions, which turned out to be completely unfounded. I try to be slow to judge people, but in this instance I definitely failed.

    I believe that often times we are quick to judge, which can be perceived as an arrogant character trait. For one, sometimes we feel that we can figure out a person based on a snapshot in time. For two, the fact that we are judging at all suggests that we don’t have any flaws of our own. Both arrogant and both wrong. At our root form we are all created equal, so shouldn’t our first reaction be to embrace rather than cast off with quick judgements?

    Although we all have character flaws, I feel strongly that the human spirit is Good. That is why I think it is so important to let our own positive outlook shine through and to do the best we can to extract it out of those around us. This puts us in a good place, but also puts those around in a good place. The great thing is that I don’t think that this philosophy has any boundaries. Be it family, friends, coworkers, clients, or whoever, I have seen it work on many levels. This is not a magical power, we all have it in us and we simply need to choose to activate it. Positivity breeds positivity no matter who you are or who you are with.

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