… and what to do about it.
While waiting for a drink at a coffee shop, I noticed two women in conversation. I was mostly staring off into space, but then something caught my attention. I couldn’t hear the discussion; I could only see its effects. The two had been chatting pleasantly and then suddenly one of them stiffened. The other kept blithely talking away. The listener stared intently at her coffee. She shrunk inward, pulling her sweater tightly around her. One knee began bouncing violently under the table and she moved her coffee cup closer to her.
All this happened within moments, just as my name was called. I picked up my coffee and left, wondering what had sparked the reaction and whether the speaker ever figured it out.
These moments happen to everyone. You say the wrong thing. You have bad news to share. You hit a tender spot. There will be times when you make others uncomfortable. In fact, sometimes you need to bring up something that you know the other person won’t want to hear.
When others are receptive to you and your message, communication flows effortlessly. But when people feel ambushed, embarrassed, shamed, or triggered, communication stops. You might still be talking, but your message is not being heard. When you detect signs of discomfort, then you can take steps to put the other at ease so that communication can continue. If you forge ahead obliviously, you will only further alienate them.
Below are five signs that the person you’re speaking with can’t fully hear you because they are more focused on their own discomfort than on your message. If you see one or two little things, don’t read too much into it. For example, if the woman at the coffee shop had simply tightened up her sweater, I wouldn’t have even noticed. She may have just been cold! It’s when you get an overall picture of discomfort that you need to pay attention to the red flags and adjust.
1. Sudden Baseline Shifts
Everyone has their own comfort zones, and you have to know them in order to assess when someone feels uncomfortable. The more time you’ve spent with a person the easier it is to spot when they act out of character. However, since most people fall into communication…