Miscommunication happens so frequently. As I write this, I’m still smarting from a post office encounter I wish had gone differently.
I was just leaving the post office with a pile of boxes in my arms. A local gentleman who I know more by sight than personally was moving slowly, and he started to move towards my car. My first thought when seeing him was “Wow, he has REALLY slowed down! I wonder if his health is failing.” Then he started making motions without any words that he would open my car door.
Now I need to share two very important pieces of context. First, my husband was sitting in the front seat. Second, my Doberman is usually sitting at the window of the back seat. It is not a good idea for anyone to open that back door, as Xena will go full on Doberman first, and ask questions later. (This includes family members!)
So, since he was moving very slowly and I move fast and he wasn’t saying anything, I was completely puzzled as to what was happening. Suddenly, he said “Well excuse me for trying to be helpful,” and walked off in a huff. (And oh my, how his anger gave him speed!)
It was only a few seconds later that my conscious brain finally registered that he was offering to open the door of my car to help me with my packages.
I’m sure he picked up on my unconscious thoughts of “Don’t open that door! My dog will bite you!” and the other set of unconscious thoughts to my husband of “Hey, how about opening the door and taking these packages off my hands.” But instead of understanding the mystery dog or otherwise reading my mind, it registered to him as some form of rejection – that I did not intend at all.
I was just too slow to put all the pieces together until after he was inside the post office and I was already driving away.
How often does communication get missed because someone is still putting the pieces together?
We had a “put the pieces together” moment last week during The Clarity Spark. Part of the program was doing a high-pressure activity together. Amongst the many options, including zip-lining, shooting guns, water skiing, horseback riding and adventure hiking, this group had chosen whitewater kayaking – the second most difficult activity.
At our dinner at Legends at Tryon International Equestrian Center, one of the participants realized that it was kayaking, not rafting. What?!?!!?!? I said “You followed the link, right? It described the Upper Green River Adventure as class II, III and IV in your own kayak?” Then it was “Wait? We are in our own boats? On Class IV rapids?!?!?!?”
Well yeah, because you learn more about yourself under pressure than any other time. And how you do anything is how you do everything. But – we will change to a different activity if you would rather.
After a conversation about how the link didn’t work and clearing up the assumptions and missed communication, the group re-decided to stick with the adventure. They really wanted to learn the skills of being present under pressure and how to create REAL change in their lives.
Little did we all know that the need to re-decide would continue throughout the next day. Once everyone had reconciled their minds to the real adventure (vs the one in their imagination), they still had to get themselves ready to show up.
Even getting the life jackets and helmets reminded everyone that this was going to get real. During the pre-trip briefing, we were shown how to paddle, how to get into the whitewater swimming position (hint: it’s exactly the opposite of what your mind intuitively wants to do) and how to get back in a tipped over boat.
It’s at moments like this that you realize there is a HUGE difference between clear communication and embodied knowledge.
The trip guides were very clear in communicating how to handle a kayak. Now we had to get on the water and embody the knowledge. Or we would be in the whitewater swimming position for 4.5 miles in a canyon with only one way to get out.
So, we got into our boats and immediately put whatever paddling skills we had into practice. We quickly learned we had to listen to the water. We had to focus on where we wanted to go or else we were on the rocks – literally. We had to find our balance. We had to make mistakes and correct them. One of the women fell out of her boat in the first few hundred feet.
We had not been on the water very long when the guides sent us into the first eddy (rest area), where we could regroup. Interestingly, the bus driver was standing on a rock above the eddy. His presence alluded to the big decision in front of us.
Here’s what the lead guide said: “Now you’ve had a chance to get a feel for the boat and a few class II rapids. You’ve been able to see how you handle the pressure. This river goes through an inaccessible canyon for the next 4 plus miles until our take out point. Between here and there, it will be up to you to paddle your boat through the rapids ahead. This is your last chance to decide to stay or go. And remember, at the take out point, you will also have to carry your kayak .7 miles up a trail to the bus.”
This was a genuine choice with fallout either way. Whoever bailed out had to live with forever wondering what would have happened if they had gone. Whoever stayed had to show up for themselves. Because on the river, it’s just you and the boat. Yes the guides could help – but only so far.
Everyone decided to show up. It was not easy, and the fear was paralyzing for some at times. But they all showed up!
The river adventure was AMAZING. And terrifying, joy-giving, frightening, exhilarating, and so much more. You’ve never seen such happy people – after it was over. During the trip, what you would have seen were women who were scared and angry and relieved and more. Nothing will test you like a big rapid, and this river had two 15+ foot Class IV drops. The danger was real.
In the end, everyone said they strongly preferred the choice of showing up over bailing out – even though the moments on the river was extremely intense. Learning that they had that level of strength and courage solidified a embodied sense of confidence that will carry into everything they do.
The same skills they used to handle the pressure of the water will translate to handling the pressure of their new responsibilities.
The fear of the unknown was one of the biggest elements to this adventure – and to any change. We ask ourselves “Can I handle this?” “What if I can’t?” “What if I make a mistake?” “What if I completely fail?”
Any real change carries these questions and the real danger that goes with it. All too often in addressing these questions, we often mis-communicate with ourselves. We pretend we don’t care. We either overestimate our abilities or forget what we can do. We treat mistakes like they are the end of the world. We let our fear overshadow the truth.
And the truth was, every one of us made a ton of mistakes on the river. We paddled left when right would have been more effective. We dug in when a light touch would have worked. We spun backwards when forwards would have felt so much safer.
For myself, the big rapids never felt quite as scary as I anticipated. And my mind and body read that as a mistake! So, I wanted a redo – until I realized that I was in the boat, not swimming. No need to beat myself up over success! All that mattered at that point was the next moment, or I would be in the water.
Every endeavor we do is the same. It never feels the way we anticipate.
Any goal worth having is an accumulation of successes and mistakes. We get there because we keep paddling, not because we are perfect at every step.
Where are you miscommunicating with yourself? Where are your successes not feeling like success? Where are your mistakes causing you to beat yourself up rather than doing what needs to be done next? Where are you showing up for yourself? What makes you bail out? What are you doing to build your internal capacity to be strong from the inside out?
Early in my career, I’m pretty sure I was tone deaf.
I KNOW I was tone deaf as an elementary school kid, trying to be in the church choir. After the first rehearsal, the choir director asked me to stay behind. I don’t know about you, but I have never really liked getting called onto the carpet. Being asked to stay behind at choir felt like there might be trouble coming.
I don’t really remember how he started the conversation; what I do remember is his patience, as he asked me if I had ever tried to match my voice to the sound coming from the piano.
He gently encouraged me to hear what he heard. He would play a note and ask me to make my voice match the note. We went up and down the scales, as I learned to hear and respond with matching sound.
Before this session, he could hear me NOT matching the notes among the other voices in our little choir. In fact, I think it was so bad that he would have been hard pressed to call the sounds coming out of my mouth singing.
Choirs share beautiful harmonies – they make music no single voice can do alone.
If our little choir was to live up to its potential, little Lynn had to learn to hear. So I got to be the one to stay behind that day. The choir director let me stay in the choir and we eventually did a performance that was heard by hundreds of people.
Much later in my career, I found another way to get called on the carpet. These were less surprising sessions, as they were called Performance Reviews. The boss would schedule them and tell me how I was doing in my job. Sometimes there would be 360 feedback from the people I worked with, also telling me how I was doing my job.
Throughout all the years I got feedback, there was one major theme. “Lynn”, they would say, “you need to learn to listen.”
I was tone deaf - and will probably never be able to count the cost of not being able to listen and hear what people were trying to tell me, especially when the messages were subtle.
How I wish I could tell you that all that feedback made me change. But I was tone deaf about being tone deaf.
Learning to listen has not been a flip of a switch for me. It’s been more like a dawning awareness of all that I was missing.
Thanks to having a series of coaches and teachers, I have learned a variety of ways to slow myself down and start paying attention to what’s happening right in front of me. When I came to realize the stunning array of subtle signals I was missing, listening suddenly became an interesting skill to learn.
For example, when I learned “getting on the balcony” from Ron Heifetz, meetings were never the same. Instead of paying attention to the words in a conversation, I started noticing the “music" under the words. Instead of judging people as right or wrong, I started getting curious about what was behind the behavior I disliked. Instead of focusing on what people were saying, I listened for the message they were sending.
In the almost invisible world I had been ignoring, a whole new world opened up for me.
Then I started working with horses and the world got bigger yet again.
Almost two years ago, I was riding on the trail with a friend when I got thrown off the horse. (The whole story will be told another time.) After that experience, I had a choice: Never get back on the horse or start over and really learn how to ride.
I’ve chosen to get back on the horse.
In one of my early lessons, Bruce Anderson, my teacher of “Natural Humanship” started me in a round pen. I’m in the middle and the horse gets to be where ever he wants to be. My assignment was to do achieve “movement” with the horse. At the first sign of movement. I was to immediately turn my back and let the horse be.
I won’t bore you with all the ways I had at my disposal to achieve that goal. It doesn’t matter anyway -- because I WAY overshot the goal. The horses ear twitched and then he raised his head and I kept going. Pretty soon I had him walking along the rail. After a couple of minutes. Bruce stopped me and asked me how I did. I was so proud of myself. After all, I had that horse MOVING, thankyouverymuch.
Then he asked me to review what had happened and the signals I had missed. “Did you see the ear twitch?” “Did you notice his head come up?” “Did you notice him shifting his feet before he started walking?” Weeeellllll...Maybe?
“Did you not count the ear twitch as movement? Or did you not think you caused the twitch?” Truth be told, I was waiting for the kind of human signals that conk me over the head.
What has become apparent to me in working with horses is that they are sending signals all the time. And all the signals are important. The day I was thrown from the horse, I missed a hundred signals telling me something was up. Plus I sent signals that were totally conflicting.
My lack of listening told him he couldn’t trust me to hear him. Why then, should he trust me to be on his back?
In the context of being on a horse, the consequences of not listening are suddenly much sharper.
I’m coming to realize that the consequences of not listening are greater than I ever knew. Getting my point across is not nearly as important as understanding who is sitting in the room with me and what matters to them.
But here’s the difficult part: hearing means changing. With the horse, I had to stop pushing so hard. With people, hearing means I take heed to what they are saying. It can be a scary, vulnerable place to actually let it in.
When talking a corporate client through a disappointing negotiation, a sales call that failed or a team meeting gone wrong, we almost always discover that mood shifted way before the bad news was delivered.
We get so caught up in the visible, the provable, the incontrovertible that we forget that much of what matters happens in the invisible world. We have to learn to read the signals and then test them out. We have to be willing to change.
We can either be like the choir sharing beautiful harmonies that none of us can do alone, or we can be like the choir with voices that can’t match the notes. To create the beautiful harmony, we have to hear the subtle tones. We have to see the ear twitches. We have to notice the mood shifts.
It only works if we listen.
Where are you superbly tuned in to listening to the notes between the notes? Where do you need to listen more deeply? What must you change in yourself to allow yourself to hear?
When I was an adult, I went back to taking piano lessons. This was not some long-held dream or bucket list item. No, this was more of an accidental way to deal with my lack of patience.
We had an old player piano that was way out of tune. It was something my new husband brought into the marriage against my wishes. In fact, I’m pretty sure I stood at the front door trying to keep him from bringing this old dirty thing into the house. It was REALLY old and dusty - and out of tune.
We got it cleaned up and every now and then, I would sit down and play. As a child, my parents forced me to take piano lessons. I could still play a few things, but they sounded terrible on this old thing. What was surprising to me as an adult was how much I enjoyed playing. Believe me, as a kid, nothing made me want to play, especially when my Mom nagged me (and nagged, and nagged and nagged ) to practice. It was an obligation. Yet here I was as an adult liking it.
One day I decided to call a piano tuner. After he finished getting that old piano as tuned as it could be, he played. And oh, how he played! It was nothing like the classical music that had been forced on me as a child. This was the blues and I was in awe!
We started talking and I learned that piano tuning was a side gig for him. In his real life, he was a professional musician and he had played with many well known people. He also gave piano lessons. He could teach me to play the blues!
Right then and there, I signed up. Here I was as an adult choosing to play piano. I practiced and practiced and practiced.
When I was a kid, I never played anything perfectly. I didn’t care. As an adult, I really wanted to play perfectly. Notwithstanding my love of the blues, soon my goal was to play Pachelbel’s Canon without missing a note. I was seeking perfection. Every day, I sat down to play. When I would make a mistake, it stopped my rhythm and I would start over. I was so proud of myself for trying so hard! So much was going on in the background that I didn’t understand at the time.
To start with, what I was calling pride in myself was actually me trying to please my piano teacher from childhood. As I was playing along, I would miss a note. Instead of continuing to play, I would freeze for a second and get mad at myself. Then I would start over from the beginning. My desire to be perfect was an exercise in proving myself to a teacher that had been dead for 20 years.
Difficult passages in the music created an even bigger dilemma. I didn’t have the patience to break it down and really learn the notes. Interestingly enough, it was lack of patience that brought me to the piano. My husband would often keep me waiting before we would go somewhere. Rather than nag him to hurry up, I started playing the piano to keep my hands occupied.
So thanks to striving for perfection and my lack of patience, I limited myself to the easy pieces of music. Rather than learning and improving, I lowered my sights to a domain where I could prove myself worthy.
During a lesson one day, I noticed that my new teacher was really pleased with something that wasn’t perfect. I told him it wasn’t good enough - ha! Me the student had higher standards than the teacher! I even mentioned that as a professional, he was so much better than me. Of course, he was perfect when he played. Then he said something that has stuck with me all these years. “I’ve never played a perfect piece in my life and never will. What we professionals have learned how to do is play through the mistakes. Every performance has a mistake. We just don’t let our mistakes knock us off our flow.”
He went on to say “I want you to learn to be a better musician, not to be perfect. Music is not about playing all the notes in the right place and at the right time. It’s as much about the space between the notes. You can only improve your skills when you are willing to feel your way through the mistakes and keep playing."
In seeking perfection, I was losing proficiency. All my energy was going into proving myself instead of getting better and learning. When I gave up striving for perfection, I became a better musician.
Perfectionism runs rampant in Corporate America. Even in cultures that have the mantra “Done is better than perfect”, individuals within that culture often struggle when they make mistakes or see others make mistakes. For many people, being asked to let good enough be good enough is like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. It goes against everything they stand for. Even without external pressure, they feel internal pressure to get it perfect. The Perfection Game is essentially a way of life.
I’m still learning to let my perfectionism go. The habits are so deeply ingrained. It’s a life long journey and worth it.
Better is better than perfect.
Where do you struggle with mistakes? What do you say to yourself when you want perfection and fall short? What one change could you make to strive for proficiency instead of perfection?
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