Thursday, August 16, 2012

Communication gap

Once, when I was a very young woman, I screwed up all my courage to go in and talk to an older, important person who was the gatekeeper to a career opportunity for me. Although we had met before I didn't know him well. However, I was friends with a young man who, in fact, was on the career path I sought - who, in fact, had suggested I speak with Mr. Big. Mr. Big was gruff and impatient even on a good day, so I wanted to find some common ground. I mentioned that I was friends with "Don," and that I hoped to be allowed to begin on the same path he was on.

A few days later I heard from Don. He was angry with me. Mr. Big told him that I had arrogantly demanded equity with Don, and that Mr. Big had been deeply offended by my sense of entitlement. Don was annoyed that I had miss-used his friendship.

I was so shocked it made me cry. What shocked me was not so much Mr. Big's unkindness, but the fact that Mr. Big had so totally misunderstood me. I thought I had been deferential. I thought I had been referring to Don as an example of someone I admired and aspired to follow. How could the words I said have been taken any other way?

And then even worse self-doubt - If I'd offended Mr. Big so deeply, how could I have left his presence thinking it had gone well? Was there some sign I'd missed? Was I just clueless?

It's been almost forty years since that moment, and yet on occasion, I've experienced - or witnessed - similar times where two people come away with totally opposite perceptions of the same conversation. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the "Rashamon effect" - named after the Japanese movie classic where four witnesses give four mutually contradictory acounts of the same crime.

My group is involved in a business negotiation, and it's beginning to look as though both parties came away from a meeting with two contradictory perceptions.

Have you experienced this in your personal or professional lives? How was it resolved?


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

It happens to my husband and me on a regular basis. I hope that is a normal phenomenon!

I'm working my way backwards through your more recent posts. And by more recent, I mean the "latest posts" ... say, ten of them.

Anonymous said...

What kind of group is this?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Oh sure, it's happened.

And sometimes, it's NEVER resolved. Offense is taken, no backsies.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this seems to happen all the time. I'll leave a meeting and think all went well, only to find out later it was a total failure. I think it comes down to people not really saying what they mean. Editing our responses often causes us to think one thing and say another.
The last time this happened to me I lost my job. All over a misunderstanding on a third partiy's part who mentioned something to my boss while I was on vacation. I saw it as sabotage, the third party saw it as a CYA move on his part. My boss thought I was being insubordinate, I chose to leave rather than continue in a hostile invironment. All because the third party misunderstood what I was asking him. Oh well, I was ready to retire anyway,
Good luck on your "group communication".