When is an email not an email? When it’s interpreted as a letter bomb!
When we first moved south from the Midlands, we lived in a lovely flat which was part of a delightful Edwardian house, on the banks of the River Thames. The house had been converted into eight apartments, and we were thrilled to be able to enjoy a wonderful setting without the associated cost of purchasing a whole property!
We were also quite happy to learn that it was managed by the leaseholders rather than a management agency. Surely that would be an easier process than having to engage with an outside and possibly uninterested body? Hahaha! How young and naïve were we!
Now, clearly we were the new kids on the block and were made very welcome but there was history running through those flats and it became more and more evident as we entered into any decision making discussions. Whether it was tendering to paint the outside of the house or getting rid of an old septic tank, it was never straight-forward.
As self-imposed mediators, hubby and I tried to broker various conversations, with varying degrees of success, but it was one day when Flat 8 was ranting to me about Flat 2, that it struck me where the problem was.
Perception and interpretation
Flat 8 was incandescent about an email that Flat 2 had circulated. She talked me through its contents and it sounded quite shocking, but I suggested that I couldn’t really comment as I hadn’t seen said email.
So she forwarded it to me.
And I discovered that I had seen it! In fact I had read it twice!
But the thing was, I had read what was actually written. The facts about the height/position/colour of the fence/car/buttercups on the lawn, or whatever the subject matter was. I had taken them at face value, unlike Flat 8 who had imbued them with several layers of unspoken intent and malice.
Because Flats 8 and 2 had clashed in the past, they had stopped hearing each other and agreement between them became unachievable.
And I can understand why.
He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his homeJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Our homes are so important to our well-being that problems within and around them can be incredibly distressing. Emotions are quickly heightened and any perceived threat triggers our fight or flight response. In this case, the fight won, although ultimately Flat 2 decided to move out.
I tell this story because it struck me as a perfect illustration of how powerful our perceptions are in effective communication, whether that is at home, at work or in our social activities.
As Tony Robbins said,
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others”.
Unfortunately, Flat 8 and Flat 2 were unable to bridge the gap that had formed between them and I remember thinking how holding such entrenched positions could not have been good for them psychologically or physically. It certainly didn’t foster a positive community atmosphere in our riverside abode.
It can be easy to get stuck in patterns of behaviour or thinking, which is why coaching can be such a powerful process. Having an impartial, non-judgmental sounding board to reflect back our words, and challenge us to see alternative ways of approaching a situation, is invaluable.
And it can ultimately ensure that our communications remain constructive rather than deteriorating into the metaphorical letter bombs referred to above.