Response and meaning

I recently took part in a videoconference. These are becoming more and more common at work as they provide an effective alternative to flying with more nonverbal signals than one gets on a teleconference call. In this call I was the only one in the room in Amsterdam whilst the nine or ten other participants were on the same room in Dublin.

I knew the message I wanted to bring across and had prepped a little on what the other speakers were going to say. Still I only received the presentations at the last minute, unlike the ‘rest of the room’ who had all presentations printed in book format.

Halfway through one of the presentations I jumped in to point out a key risk. This is something I’d discussed at length with the speaker already, although this time we were speaking in front of his boss and other executives. At the time I spoke passionately (as I am wont to do at times). This was not how the others in the room experienced my little speech. I got an mail from my boss pretty quickly asking me to tone down my remarks. I didn’t understand but a couple of minutes and mails later he repeated the request. From that point on when I wanted to speak I raised my hand primary school style.

After the meeting I got feedback from a couple of different people that I had been overly aggressive (not passionate). Also this did not match with my experience I took it onboard and started to investigate more deeply. Sure enough the guy with whom I was speaking was actually very annoyed with me. Although he was not really offended he was pretty puzzled — ie he was wondering why I was out to get him.

One of the presuppositions which is axiomatic to Neuro Linguistic Programming is that “the
meaning of the message is the response you get”. ie it is not what was in your head when you were speaking but the response that that elicited from your partner in conversation. This I’d not to ‘be kind’ to the person with whom you are communicating but to help you in communicating with less iterations of confusion. This is a principle I have given talks and workshops on… which is why it is humbling — and useful — to screw up like this.

I did my best to make up, by talking about my intent and my behaviour — and apologizing as only the British can.

What is actually worse is that by making this kind of schoolboy error most of my point was lost on the room and it will be harder to make the point I’m the future.

Live and learn, or in the words of a Japanese expression “Fall down seven times and get up eight”.

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