I got some great advice a while back from a wise colleague. I was bewildered by a situation, a relationship, that just didn’t make sense. The inputs, the feedback, all seemed right. But the results, the output, just were not. I could not make heads nor tails of what was going on.
“Listen to the behavior” was my friend’s advice. Stop listening to the reassuring words, to all the right sounds telling me what I wanted to hear. Treat it just as noise. Listen to the behavior. What is he doing? Not what he promises to do, says he will do, explaining what he is trying to do, getting ready to do. What is he actually doing? If you were an anthropologist from Mars observing this person’s behavior, what would it tell you?
The minute I tuned out all the words and focused solely on the message the behavior conveyed, it clicked into place. I was being bamboozled and had no one to hold responsible but myself. Perhaps because I am a verbal person I put too much weight on words. Perhaps because I could not imagine misleading anyone to the extent I was being snowed (my face would turn purple with embarrassment and my self-concept and self-respect would shrivel), I found it hard to believe that someone I trusted would look me straight in the eye and dissemble so adroitly.
Listening to the behavior was my savior. I’m more than willing to give second chances and, heck, you get three tries in baseball. I’m open to the fact that people are different, miscommunications can occur, and we all see the world differently. However, at some point when things just don’t add up and they stay that way, it makes sense to step back, stop listening to the spin, and listen to the behavior.
This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted September 5, 2008.