Archive for March 19, 2016


Actually, this is an example of a very dangerous triangle. Someone says something.  You respond not to the words but to what you think the person “really” means.

She asks, “Do you have the time to go by Anna’s house and drop this off on your way home?”You hear, “You’d better be willing to do me this  little favor and go out of your way to drop this off on your way home or I’m going to pull a guilt trip on you.”

You surrender and drop it off on your way home even though you really don’t have the time to spare. Now you’ve ceded your power to what you imagine someone else is thinking, and you’re resentful, or at least annoyed. Why not assume she really was asking whether you had the time?

Maybe you know the person well enough to be accurate in your interpretation of the unspoken meaning. It would still be much better to respond to the words that are spoken. What if you said, “Honestly,  I’ll be late getting home if I do that.” If you are kind, you might then say something like “Would it help if I drop it off tomorrow morning?” If the hidden words were indeed intended to induce guilt, you’ve given the speaker and yourself the first lesson in being direct. And you’ve avoided resentment.

I heard once of a faculty member who found a note posted to his door. “I stopped by but you weren’t here.” The faculty member read, “You were supposed to be in your office, but you weren’t and I’m annoyed.” Just at that point someone else arrived and was shown the note with a comment something like “I’m getting sick and tired of these complaining students.” How much better, and more accurate, would it have been to take the words at face value. “I stopped by but you weren’t here.” – a simple statement of fact.

That’s the kind of mistake that can cost friendships or business problems if e-mails aren’t read carefully before being sent.

Consider two people in the process of breaking up a relationship. “Please send me the number of the last check you sent from our joint account before we closed it.” The recipient reads, “I’ve found another way to make your life miserable with an unnecessary request” and decides to withhold the information that the former partner doesn’t really need.  Do I need to describe what emotions follow in both ends?. My comment?” C’mon, just send the number. Why make life difficult for yourself?”

Let me end with a rather mundane example. Jane says to Mary, “I really like your new hair style.” Mary hears, “The way you used to wear your hair was really ugly.”

Oh yes, let me add one more thing. Sometimes silence is language. It’s really dangerous to hear words behind the silence, like “He didn’t say I did a good job on that project. The SOB liked it but isn’t willing to give me credit,” or, depending on your state of mind, “I guess he didn’t like the work I did.” Could it be that your project wasn’t even on his mind? hmmm …

I guess it all boils down to deciding that mind-reading is not a very effective means of communicating and is certainly not a safe stimulus to a response.

I have a feeling you could supply better examples.

Oh yes I know what you’re thinking. “Couldn’t she have come up with some clearer examples?”


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