So often we are triggered not by what someone says, but what we hear… or what we wanted to hear that we did not hear, regardless of if it was said, or not! Wow! There's a virtual game of twister for you!
Friend says: “I’m busy” – You hear: “You are not a priority.”
You say: “I can’t.” – Your friend hears: “I won’t”
Friend says: “I forgot.” – You hear: “It wasn’t important to me. You are not important to me.”(You wanted to hear "It is as important to me as it is to you, because you are important to me" but the only way to hear that was with the action of not forgetting, not through anything that was ever said, see! The message was in what was not said.)
I have even found myself in a situation whereby my friend cancelled our plans on me at the last moment and I said “No worries” and she responded with something along the lines of “You don’t even seem to care. I see I am easily replaceable.”
Now if that doesn’t warrant the Ellie Goulding lyric quote “Stop talking in codes.” I don’t know what does! Lol Clearly what I said and what she heard were not the same thing. I can see where my friend was coming from, but at the same time, I did NOT say that I didn't care, nor that she were replaceable, even though it is what she heard. I could have interpreted her cancellation in the same way and instead of saying “No worries” I could have said “Clearly I am unimportant to you if you can cancel so easily, you don’t care about me or our friendship!” But I wouldn't ever say that..... or would I? Lol Turns out... yes, I would! Having actually been guilty of this almost exact reaction recently with a different friend I felt that it was a timely reminder to post about what we do NOT say and what we DO or DO NOT hear.
Despite women’s reputation for being the great communicators of society, the situations at hand are glaringly obvious miscommunications. Much like the post based on Gary Chapman’s love languages, where I came to realise when you are someone’s friend you have to do it in their own language, women also have differing styles of communication and when you aren’t speaking in the same style, you might hear things that were not said…. Or even fail to hear things that were not said?! Yes, that’s right… fail to hear something that was not said?! How confusing is that?!
I have been reading a great book “You’re the only one I can tell.” By Deborah Tannen whereby she identifies the 2 different styles of communication and the problems and miscommunications that ensue as a result of these. It is a very interesting read and I highly recommend it. Whichever style of communication you use, it is very relatable. So what are the 2 styles? Direct communication and indirect communication. Simple really.
My style is indirect. I won’t come out and say “You are acting like a jerk.” I will say “Well if you consider it from the other person’s perspective it may seem to them as though you don’t care, although I know you do care, it may not show in your actions.” And I will hope they take the implication kindly! If not I wont necessarily push the issue. If someone doesn’t want to hear that they are acting like a jerk then they wont, and if I come right out and say it like that I fear they will just get angry at me. My desire to avoid conflict, and the conversational style I was raised with anyway, dictate this not only as a preference, but almost a complete inability to be more direct.
I have become increasingly aware that this style is completely baffling and frustrating to those who prefer a more direct style. These are the people who never hesitate to tell me if they think I am being a jerk, nor anybody else. Their direct style intimidates the hell out of me and I find them too confrontational and angry. They find me too passive aggressive and weak. I am most likely to hear negatives they didn’t say and they are most likely not to hear negatives I didn’t directly say, either.
When I dissect the closest friendships I have nurtured, the thing that stands out the most is that I feel closest to people who hear what I do NOT say. The ones who speak my indirect language. The ones who know how I feel without me having to say so. These friends hear what is not said and respond in kind. Positives are spoken directly, but negatives are all largely unspoken. Deborah Tanning would call this “High Considerateness style.” Each of us is acutely listening to the implications and are aware of the interpretations of what our friend may hear, think and feel as a result. We want to make sure she is heard and understood, and that we are too. This creates a feeling of safety to occasionally say something negative directly without fear of being dismissed, reprimanded, judged or misunderstood.
The people I feel less close to, have a more direct style of communication, Deborah Tannen labels as “High Involvement style.” These people say what they mean, and mean what they say and will often carry more of the speaking role in order to express their friendship. For women like me this can come off as conceitedness, confrontational, and an inability to listen or care. That said, I can also identify that these are the same women who are able to stay calm in a confrontation and just say what they feel. I admire this quality and find I am drawn to it on some level too. A quiet respect for it I suppose.
My inability to get to the point and reveal the core issue comes across to a direct friend as pointless lecturing and their directness comes across to me as an aggressive attack. This miscommunication leads us to unhelpful labeling of each other and a failure to understand or show caring in the language of the other party. My own style dictates that I cannot stay calm and rational during a confrontation and if I am pushed into it, the forced directness will be cutting for everyone involved…. Almost always cutting the ties completely.
This is mostly because my direct friend has never actually heard my unspoken negatives even if I think they have, and so all they have heard from me is positive. To suddenly be faced with a wave of negatives, when pushed, is enough to not only wipeout the friendship but to leave them questioning if I ever even liked them at all. It tarnishes the directness of the positives they so easily believed before.
This all poses the question; Are your friends responsible for what you hear? No. Direct friends are responsible for what they say and do, and indirect ones are equally responsible for what they do not say and do. If your friend hears something you didn't mean to say.... perhaps it's not so much what she heard, but what she felt? I don't know who is responsible for that, but I do know it should matter to you both. If it doesn't; therein lies your real issue.
Your indirect friend is the one most likely to tell you that you look fabulous in that dress, (she may make an alternate suggestion, but won’t push it if she thinks you think you look great already) even though the photo’s later reveal a different story… but she meant to help you not hurt you. If your indirect friend hears something you didn’t intend, reassure her and then look at the reasons why she is feeling insecure. What have you said or done that has caused her to stop trusting in your positive intention towards her? If on the other hand she is the one that has upset you; be as indirect and non-confrontational as you can.
Your direct friend is the friend most likely to say you do look fat in that dress, and insist you change, but she also meant to help you more than hurt you. If your direct friend says something directly hurtful and confrontational, ask her to explain if she meant to be hurtful or helpful. Ask yourself what she has said or done lately that has caused you to stop trusting her positive intent towards you and what she can do to help you move forwards. Tell her as directly and calmly as you can.
Essentially you have to identify your friends’ style and try as hard as you can to understand and speak to her in her own language. Hopefully if she hears you trying to do this and she does the same for you, it may be possible to meet somewhere in the middle, but you will always do better with people who naturally speak your language in the first place.
What's your style?
Your Best Friend ForNever