Some of you how have been following my blog from the beginning will remember that about 2 years ago I started writing a book. For those of you who don’t know I decided to write about how I am learning how to navigate my way through my life by understanding myself and what motivates and drives me and how that can improve how I connect with others and hopefully get the most out of my life. Recently with doing a level 7 coaching qualification and then some health issues it has been a bit stop start. Well this morning I was feeling a bit more motivated to revisit it. Writing some notes on Chapter 7 which is about how we communicate with each other. As I was writing it I thought it might be helpful to share what I have so far. The chapter explores how society dictates how we communicate with others, which during these changing times really resonated with me. So here is what I have so far and I hope it resonates with some of you. By the way I am feeling a lot better today and yesterday, all week I have steadily improved each day so hopefully I have seen the back of it now. Any way I hope this gives you another view on what happens when we meet new people.
Does society dictate how we communicate with people?
I have mentioned this a few times, but our view of the world dictates how we behave within it. This view is in turn dictated by the stories we hear and the events we witness. The stories we hear come from a variety of sources, including our families, friends, schools, media, and our workplaces to name but a few. Then we add into the mix the events we witness and take part in. Now as mentioned before our memories of events are always corrupted by our brains to fit into our view of the world and justify our behaviour or response (this could be to our advantage or disadvantage, depending on our mindset).
When we first see people we start making judgements, about them. Whether they are a threat or not, and how we should best communicate with them. The only data we initially have is their appearance, this might be followed by the sounds they make and the smells immit, followed by how they behave. If we are around long enough we will make more informed decisions on them as we collect more data about them. However we will often make an early decision on whether to communicate with them or not.
Remember the Chimp (limbic system), of course you do. Well this is the limbic system in action. When someone new appears the limbic system wakes up to assess any threat that this new individual may pose. The limbic system will not stop there though, remember this system is designed to protect you, feed you and secure the future of your species. Therefore your chimp will be assessing whether the new person can help you elevate your position to keep you safe and potential a secure supply of food, whether they may lower your status and therefore put you more at risk, or whether they are a potential mate. In the blink of an eye your limbic system has made a decision based on limited data, about how you would potentially communicate with this new person. Whether to greet them with a warm smile, and say hello, nod your head in their direction, give no eye contact, give them your phone number, or get well out of their way.
The thing is what we don’t know about people we generally make up. We don’t like loose ends, we like everything packaged up and in its’ place, it makes us feel safe and secure.
I love to people watch on the bus on the way to work. I go to work early and generally get the same bus most days. If anyone commutes on public transport you will know that you see the same people everyday. As most of us are creatures of habit we all like to sit in the same seat, so it is always easy to spot the same people. When I was a Charge Nurse I used to get the first bus in the morning and the same people would always get on at the same stops. There was always 2 of us at my stop. I was always accompanied by a young man in his early 20s who would always be listening to music on a Sony Discman. Now this was around 2002/3 so they were still around (the digital world was just starting, afterall I still used my Sony Walkman and tapes at the time). Every morning he would be listening to Songs For The Deaf by Queens of The Stoneage, he played it so loud that I could hear the songs clearly through his headphones. In all the time we stood at the bus stop together, which was everyday barring holidays for a year, we never spoke, in fact we never even acknowledged each other. Our chimps both clearly decided there was no benefit to be had communicating with each other. Despite this I knew him very well. My mind had given him a very detailed back story to justify why I was not going to communicate with him. In my mind he was a socially awkward 24 year old with an unhealthy obsession with rock music, which had led to occasional dabbling in the occult. In my mind he was called Gary, he lived at home with his mum and dad although he rarely ventured out of his room. He worked on a production line in a local factory. None of this was at all true, or I very much doubt it. I know this is extreme, but I did have a year to create this back story. It does however illustrate that we take a small amount of information and fill in the gaps based on what we understand, and stories we have heard that might explain what we are seeing. When we have this story, maybe nothing as elaborate as the one I described we will make a decision on if we are going to communicate with them and how we are going to communicate. We make decisions daily based on the assumptions we make about the people we confront. Our assumptions are made based on the stories we have stored in our memory bank. The vast majority of which are wildly inaccurate and do not bear any resemblance to the stories of the person in front of us as demonstrated in the story above.
Recently I have been reading a book called Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. The tag line is ‘What we should know about the people we don’t know’. Essentially we need to know that they are complicated and we are complicated. Malcolm suggests that when communicating with people most of us will default to truth, meaning we generally believe what people are saying and will only think it a lie when the evidence is overwhelming. We assume people are transparent, and it is easy to tell what people are thinking and feeling by their behaviour and facial expressions. We are not transparent and there is not a standard for facial expressions and behaviour. Lastly what we do and say are dependant on the environment, our experiences and the current situation. So what Malcolm is suggesting is that unless we know someone very, very well, we do not stand a cat in hells chance of figuring out what is going on in people’s heads. But we cannot help but try to predict someone’s motive, or whether they are being honourable or not. Sometimes it is important to accept that we will not get all the answers and we will misread people as they will misread us. We are all capable of telling lies, we are all mismatched in the respect that our behaviours and expressions do not match what is really going on for, and our decision making and reaction is very much dependent on context. So if we are all like that we don’t really stand a chance do we.
If you want to know more about someone the only way is to listen to them, see them and understand the context they are living in. Always paying attention to what you are assuming and understanding about them based on your context which will not be theirs. So don’t be surprised when people do not end up being who you thought they were, but also don’t be surprised if they end up being exactly who you thought they were too.
Stay safe everyone, speak soon