"Every life is a canvas and every interaction is a brush, therefore we’d be wise to consider how we handle the paint.”
– Craig D. Lounsbrough, U.S. author and counselor
It's Tuesday morning. Justin walks into the office and, as he always does, greets everybody with a cheerful, "Good morning!"
Usually, everybody returns his greeting. But today, Caryn just mumbles something and doesn't even look up.
Justin starts to think about all his interactions with Caryn over the last two days. Was it something he said? Something he didn't say? Maybe something he forgot to do? But he can't think of any reason why Caryn would be so unfriendly.
Just after 10 o’clock, Justin's manager calls him into her office. She asks him, among other things, to take some documents to Caryn to get them signed.
His heart sinks. Caryn is the last person he feels like facing! He still doesn't know what he did wrong, so he decides to act in a formal and officious way.
Justin goes to Caryn's office and puts the documents on her desk with a rather curt, "Maria asked you to sign these." She signs, and he thanks her politely but without his customary friendliness.
When he leaves, Caryn wonders what has got into Justin. He's usually a very pleasant person but he seems so aloof this morning.
During the day, Caryn catches herself recalling all their recent interactions, trying to think how she might have offended him. Try as she may, nothing comes to mind.
Justin walks into the office and, as he always does, greets everybody with a cheerful, "Good morning!"
Usually, everybody returns his greeting. But today, Caryn just mumbles something. Justin knows that Caryn's mother is very ill, and he realizes that she's probably preoccupied.
Just after 10 o’clock, Justin's manager calls him and asks him to take some documents to Caryn for her to sign.
When he gets to Caryn's office, he greets her and says, "I noticed you seemed a bit quiet this morning. Is everything OK? How's your mom doing?"
After Justin has left, Caryn thinks what a nice person he is and how kind he is to ask about her mother.
The two scenes above played out very differently, even though they started off with the same people, in the same place, at the same time, doing the same things.
What made the difference was how Justin decided to interpret Caryn's mumbled greeting. In the first scenario, he made an assumption that he must have done something wrong. But, in the second scenario, he took the bigger picture into consideration.
In both scenarios, all Justin's interactions with Caryn, from the greeting onward, were influenced by his thoughts about her mumbled greeting.
These two scenes describe mundane, everyday occurrences. Yet even in this very simple example we see how complex and multilayered human interactions can be.
Two of the recurring themes in last Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat were making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. Many participants felt that assumptions are probably the biggest obstacle we face in our interactions with other people. Another is poor listening. Here are all of the questions we asked, and some of the responses:
@JKatzaman Every person has different sensitivities that lead to complex interactions. What is fine with one person or culture might offend another.
@Midgie_MT There is no one rule or way things are done. There are infinite variations of possibilities when interacting with others. You cannot apply the same rule and generalize about everyone.
@MarkC_Avgi Even circumstances that one person may be dealing with at that specific time may change their reaction from how they may otherwise react. You might expect a normal "repeated" reaction to something you say or do, and get a totally different one from the norm.
@BrainBlenderTec People often make it harder than it is as insecurity, ego and bias all flood in when they forget that, at the core, we are all just humans trying to navigate our way in the world to be happy.
Many of you said that when we make assumptions, they lead to difficulties in our interactions.
@YEPBusiness Unreasonable expectations and unfounded assumptions often gum up the works in human interactions.
@CareerGoals360 Lack of being open for discussions, and jumping to conclusions.
@KobusNeethInst People assume the message they hear has the tone that they think it has.
@GodaraAR 1. The distance barrier has been removed. 2. The interactions are real now – across borders. 3. Tracking of interactions has become easier.
@Jikster2009 It's increased the options of communication, but at the same time diminished the emphasis of interacting face to face, which makes it harder to develop relationships. Some alternative forms of interaction are also open to wider interpretation, which can cause issues.
As much as we'd like all our interactions to be smooth sailing, complex interactions help us to learn more about ourselves and other people.
@SaifuRizvi Complex human interactions sometimes produce extraordinary solutions!
@MicheleDD_MT It has acted as a mirror to uncover the assumptions and biases I have when interacting with others. Think first, then write or speak.
@sittingpretty61 Never minimize the power of words and the impact they have on another person.
@GThakore Listen first. See every possible angle. Don't hear only what you want to hear. Be a straight communicator.
Complex human interactions often force us to think differently, and to change our actions to attain a different outcome.
@LernChance Always be aware that misinterpretation, arising from different backgrounds (life, company, origin) can happen – even if you think you know your audience.
@harrisonia One thing I have been accepting for the last 20 years is that just because people have respected credentials does not mean they have common sense or a basic understanding of technology.
@Yolande_MT Help and teach people to accept other people as they are, not as you want them to be.
@DrRossEspinoza Speaking, clarifying and engaging with what the other person looks for. Also, communicating face to face or by telephone helps lots.
@MegOKerns This one is more difficult: in face-to-face interactions, I think it's more about "reading the room" and knowing your audience. When in doubt, ask!
@s_narmadhaa I try to be present both physically and mentally. So when something trips me up, it shows on my face. And when I follow it up with questions, it's often easy to navigate a complex conversation.
We particularly liked the way that Naeem (@NWarind) described his "go-to rule":
@NWarind Try to put yourself in their shoes. Mostly, shoes are flexible and we are not.
@SabrinaCadini Respect, above all. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is losing respect for one another (starting from many top leaders), and that affects many areas in our lives, personally and professionally.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Communication, learning how to navigate human interactions, and conflict management are three of the most widely covered learning and development topics. We're going to talk about L&D in our next #MTtalk, and in our Twitter poll this week we'd like to know what you think is the most overtrained but underapplied training topic. Please vote in our Twitter poll, here.
In the meantime, here are some resources that may help you to navigate the complexities of human interactions:
8 Ways to Improve Your Self-Regulation
How to Apologize
How to Work With Irritating People
Building Great Work Relationships
Boost Your Interpersonal Skills
Bell and Hart's Eight Causes of Conflict
Working With People You Don't Like
The Betari Box
The Johari Window
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