Talking to a Wall

Things were not going well. The person I was sitting next to was making it hard for me to focus. I felt myself grow impatient with him. No matter how slowly or clearly I spoke in response to his frequent interruptions, it felt like he wasn’t listening.

I would try to respond to his unwanted advice or suggestions by providing explanations and reasons for the way I was working and how I was dealing with things but it didn’t seem to make any difference.

With growing frustration, I attempted to reframe the way I received his message so as better to deliver my message in response. I called upon every interpersonal and intercultural communication skill I knew to try and salvage things but nothing was working.

I felt like I was talking to a wall.

Finally, I pulled away from him and turned my attention to another task. This was something that felt slightly rude to do but withdrawing was the default I displayed.

A scheduled break came and I excused myself to make a phone call. It was only after having an easy and enjoyable conversation with someone else that the full extent of the problems in communication with this other person became clear.

That’s when I realized I had a choice to make.

I could continue to avoid him. I could move to another area in the room for the rest of the time we were scheduled to be together. I could display even more nonverbal messages signaling how much I did not want to interact with him anymore.

Or …

I could flip everything on its head and realize that he was taking the time to “help” me because he had an interest. He was exerting effort to try and “solve” what he assumed were “problems” I was having because he had the same kind of heart I did; one that was wired to help others by making them better.

The choice was mine.

Returning to the room we were working in, I sat next to him, turned my body toward him, placed my hand softly on his arm and said, “You have been trying to help me and I am thankful for that. I am sorry if my response wasn’t as good as it could have been. Thank you for taking the time to show me what you know. I appreciate it.

The effect was immediate. We both relaxed a bit more and I saw that he saw I understood his motives correctly.

That doesn’t mean the rest of the day was perfect, or even good. He still continued to suggest, correct and advise me on all manner of things. But this time, I simply looked at him, replied, “That’s a really good idea. Thank you.” before continuing with what I was working on as I was already successfully doing it.

It made me think of what it must be like for those of us who “advise” as a profession.

How often do I think I’m listening carefully to a client or colleague only to correct or override their responses? Instead, what I should be doing is working harder to make sure my intent to help them is the first, middle and last thing they feel when it comes time to implement new ideas or make uncomfortable changes.

Because, if I’m not careful, my clients and colleagues might feel about my approach with them the same way I felt about this man’s approach toward me.

It’s something to consider.