It’s the subleties

Posted by Doc
Jun 28 2009

How many times have you found yourself feeling angry or hurt or amused, and yet been unable to put your finger on just what it was?

“He insulted me!”

“She hurt my feelings.”

“That was ridiculous.”

And the other person is confused, surprised, or hurt by your reaction. Why is that?

As attuned as I try to be to subtleties, I still find myself surprised at times.

One of the more common subtleties that I try to remain aware of is using comparative and judgmental words unintentionally, especially when facilitating meetings/discussions.

For instance, one person offers a comment, to which I say “thank you.” The next offers a comment, to which I respond “That was good.” Another offers a comment to which I say “Excellent!” What’s the impact on the first person? After all, I didn’t say their comment was good or excellent, so was their comment not as good as the other two? Did I somehow just slight that person? And the second person – did I imply that the third person’s comment was even better than theirs?

I can hear folks now saying “Are you telling me, Doc, that I have to think about every word I say before I say it? I mean, won’t that be a lot of work?”

Yes, and yes. Especially if you are in a position or role where your words have power and influence.

I haven’t forgotten my own philosophy – that It’s All About Me – that I’m not responsible for my listeners’ behavior or feelings.  But I also remember that part of my thinking is that I can choose to be aware of the impact that my behavior may have on others, and choose to modify my behavior.

When I facilitate, I struggle to be aware of how what I say may impact those present, and to choose my words with care. I try to avoid comparatives (“better”), and judgmental terms (“good”, “thoughtful”). As a facilitator, it’s appropriate for me to recognize someone for speaking (“thank you”) and acknowledge them, but not to judge them or compare them.

5 Responses

  1. […] This post was Twitted by rstackhouse […]

  2. Don Smith says:

    Don Smith made a comment about your note “It’s the subleties”:

    This is great Doc. And your example is perfect. I also try to be sensitive to how I’m being interpreted. But that’s largely due to my philosophy – that it’s about my audience – I’m responsible for taking their culture, perspective, etc into account when communicating with them. I can’t be responsible for how they choose to react, but I can take responsibility for the content. And I think that’s what you’re getting at. Agreed.

    With that said, I think body language has a considerable impact too. And the way you carry yourself when you’re facilitating a meeting makes it pretty tough to imagine you have anything but the purest of intentions. I doubt you upset too many people.

    Nice guideline about not using comparative words. Sounds like a nice way of steering clear of the weeds.

  3. […] It’s the subleties and Facilitation Antipattern: Repetitor (Steven ‘Doc’ List) […]

  4. I believe that you are correct. And as Don is saying. If you are communicating the same thing with your face, gestures and the rest of your body, you’re not very likely to send mixed messages.

    Try asking someone for the time for instance, and at the same time point to your far left or right. The reactions vary but it’s usually a big: ‘Huh?!’

    I don’t know the exact numbers but I think less than 10% of communication is the actual words.So, to me, it’s even more subtle than choosing the correct words. Different words can work as ‘anchors’ as well. Starting a thought processes you don’t want. But that is a totally different discussion 😉

    But that might just have been what you were trying to say?

    Oh, and thanks for making me think again! Your posts almost always makes me think about interesting things.


  5. […] As I said this summer, each of us is responsible for considering what we say and what we do and how it affects or is interpreted by others. Each of us must be conscious of how we change the value of what we say or do by the little things, like pulling back our elbows before the lift. […]

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