When my husband and I first moved to San Diego a few years ago I was in a vulnerable place.
We came here because he’d been promoted. Me? I was jobless.
Having just come off of my position as executive director of a large nonprofit, I had to face the fact that I was now pretty unimportant. I was also, all of a sudden, definitively, desperately…needy.
The mornings were okay. I kept myself busy networking and exploring our new city.
By mid-afternoon it was all over. I was antsy. I was anxious. I was…cranky.
I realized I needed an emotional hand from hubbie. And so I told him so.
At least I thought I did.
I told him the afternoons were torture for me, that I needed to talk with someone, that I would love to hear from him if he got the chance.
The next day…he didn’t call. And at first I was pretty mad…hurt that he didn’t care.
But then I realized what I’d done wrong. So that evening I said the following to him:
“You know, by about 2:30 in the afternoon I’ve reached my emotional limit and I feel very lonely. So I need you to call me at that time and just check in for a few minutes.”
The next day…he called. Right at 2:30.
Why did he do it? Not because he all of a sudden got me in a whole new way. Not because he’d grown smarter or I’d grown telepathic in the last 24 hours.
He did it because I’d figured out the most important thing you must do when you communicate…with anyone. And I can boil it down to words:
Being explicit means stating what you need, what you want and what you expect…clearly. It means leaving nothing implied. Nothing to chance.
It means you have increased your odds of getting what you want…from your staff, from your boss, from your partner, from your friends.
Why be explicit? Two reasons.
Reason #1 – We talk differently
We all have different histories, different perspectives. As a result, we define things differently.
I had a staff member who told me she was “overwhelmed” each and every time I saw her.
And so I’d spend all kinds of time trying to help her through it. Yet no matter what we took off of her plate or what projects she completed she continued to say she was overwhelmed.
It didn’t make any sense to me. Until I realized we were defining the word differently.
To her, overwhelmed meant “busy”. Me? I use the word only when I feel like my world is about to come crashing down. To me, it means “dire”.
We define words differently. Yet when we speak we assume the other person automatically knows what we mean, and also what we need as a result.
Reason #2 – We hint
We love to hint. We love subtext. We use it every day…often without even knowing it.
We use the tone of our voice to emphasize whether we’re being serious or sarcastic.
We use body language to insinuate how much something really means to us. We say things like “it would be great if you could…” when we really mean “I need you to…”
We tell staff members we want them to review the dress code when we really want them to stop wearing flip flops to the office.
We tell board members that we’re low on individual donations when we really want them to come through on their give or get commitment.
We tell our friends that we’re tired of people disrespecting our time when we really want them to stop arriving to our lunches 20 minutes late.
We hint, and then we get frustrated when others don’t give us what we want.
If you use subtext and expect people to give you what you want, you’re not just being unreasonable. You’re also being unfair.
I challenge you today to pay attention to how often you use subtext, body language or hinting…how many ways and with how many people.
I challenge you to listen in on conversations where everyone thinks they’re speaking the same language, when they’re really not.
I challenge you to be explicit with what you need. What you want. What you expect.
I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Now, go do good…and do it well.