Communication in the here and now

A while back, I wrote about the Interaction Model and how communication can become tangled.

I’ve been working with a colleague preparing for a workshop. This morning we lived out a great example of how communication goes awry:

After synching up and making a plan for the day, my colleague added an item to the list of items we need to bring to the workshop: “Purel”

“How big a bottle do we need?” I asked.

“Well, you’ve been sneezing and might be coming down with a cold. And all these people will have been on airplanes, and they’ve been exposed to germs. We won’t be able to wash our hands everytime we sneeze, so we need Purel,” she answered.

I was puzzled.

“I understand why we need it,” I said. “I have a small bottle with me, and I want to know if that’s enough, or we need a larger size.”

“We need a bigger size with a pump dispenser,” she answered.

After we figured out the content, I wanted to solve my puzzle.

“I’m puzzled. I asked a ‘How much’ question, and you gave a ‘Why’ answer,” I said.

She thought about it for a minute. “My ex-husband always asked me to justify decisions and purchases. So I heard you ask me to prove it was a worthy idea.”

When my colleague’s answer gave me a clue that my question hadn’t been clearly received, I restated my question in a more specific way. And I asked about how she interpreted my question.

This was an easy tangle to unravel. But when the misinterpretation isn’t about about you and the current interaction, the misinterpretation can be harder to untangle because of the emotions involved.

Then the first thing to do it get the conversation into the here-and-now.

When I suspect the interaction isn’t in the hear-and
-now, I might say one of these things:

  • I’m puzzled by your response. What did you hear me say?
  • I’m wondering if I might not have been clear. Let me say that a different way….
  • I’m puzzled by your response. Can you tell me what’s happening for you right now?

    Then I wait to see what new information about the interaction emerges.

    We all get tangled up in communication — its part of being
    human. And learning to get over the bumps makes it easier to work with people and makes everyone more productive.