A comment was made in a recent meeting about program management I attended where there was a discussion about dealing with difficult customers,
“People don’t perceive what effort it takes to meet their expectations. They only begin to understand when we add cost to their proposal.”
Communication is inherently inefficient. There’s no way to know what a person is thinking inside their own heads and the assumptions going into to a conversation. There are random associations, memories, and feelings that crop up during our interactions. Our biology can give rise to feelings that are not appropriate in a given situation. We’ve all learned how to display the mask our environment accepts and cover some of our feelings. It’s part of growing up and integrating into society. No matter how we approach our communication, there’s always left over stuff from things left unsaid to things lost in our assumptions we are not entirely conscious of.
Often in our communication we have to ask others to do something or others request something of us. Establishing the expectation is not easily done. Each individual understands words and body language differently. We interpret others through the lens of our own assumptions. We all use different mental models for what we think should be or is. Coupling this with the inherent inefficiencies of communication, it’s a wonder we understand each other or able to accomplish what others want us to. When we deal with the same people over and over, we come to understand their assumptions and unspoken expectations. Just ask a married couple who has been together for a decade. Or, try to deal with a four-year old. They lack the understand, so you may find yourself telling them step by step what to do. “Go up stairs. Take off your clothes. Turn on the bath water. Step into the tub. Wash yourself. Drain the tub. Get a towel and dry yourself off. Then put on your pajamas.” If you don’t go to this level of detail, any one of these steps may be missed creating a potential fiasco. On the other hand, you can just tell an eight year old to go take a bath.
These unspoken assumptions, expectations, things unexpressed and extra stuff when dealing with others are the crap factors we have to include in our estimate of communicating or getting things done. Each individual has their own approach and added factors when attempting to accomplish something. In a marriage each spouse learns to deal with the little nuances that make each other unique. Managers and workers deal with these nuances as do parents and kinds, or customers and suppliers. We have to put up with each other’s crap. In fact most people just bitch about each other’s crap. The whole situation can be fun when we are aware of the extra crap we have to put up with. The thing is, we often don’t remember that others have to deal with our crap. This leaves us with a question. Do you know what your crap factor is?
Just asking the question can help us open ourselves to the possibility that others don’t see us as we think they see us. Any amount of this realization can help make our communication be a bit more effective and perhaps even slightly more efficient.