At the source of every war, every upset, every form of suffering, is something very simple: a communication has not been gotten.
I saw this for myself via two phone calls.
A few days ago, I was talking to a friend, S, on the phone. I was telling her about a company that had approached me for help. The company had recently promoted a staff member to a supervisory role and there were issues with how the person was relating to others. The HR department thought a coach or mentor would be useful and they contacted me to see if I offered this service.
I don’t usually do one-on-one coaching in this area and I said so; however, because they are an existing client and I wanted to help them, I said I would think about some possible options.
That’s when I had the conversation with S. I started telling her about the situation and saying I wasn’t clear what I was going to tell the company, and then she said something extraordinary:
What I hear is that it’s like a semi-counselling role and you’re not really interested in doing that, and one of the reasons is because the group solves problems that an individual doesn’t …
Bingo! That was it. While I’d talked around and around the point, she’d gotten it perfectly, including the Unsaid. As soon as she said this, my concern vanished. I knew, perfectly, surely, what I had to say to the company. I felt so grateful to be gotten that the rest of the day was brilliant.
A few days earlier, I had had a call with B and it didn’t go well.
I said something on the call and, without warning, B became enraged. I tried to apologise and communicate that I wasn’t intending what she was accusing me of, but it was futile. The flight-or-fight response was firmly in the driver’s seat, and the call ended with B’s rage escalating.
I thought about it afterwards and it occurred to me she’d been trying to communicate something which I hadn’t gotten. Girding my loins, I rang back a few hours later to see if we could have the conversation go differently. For the first 10 minutes, it was a rerun of the earlier call, her raging and me trying to apologise and calm the situation, and getting nowhere. I was very close to losing it myself, when finally, I heard her say something clearly about how she had experienced the previous call.
Ah. That sounded new. So I apologised for not getting that that was how she was experiencing the call, and as soon as the words were halfway out of my mouth I heard something change. “Oh,” she said, all tension gone,
I feel better now.
It was like a switch had been flicked, and the call ended soon after with her completely restored to equanimity.
What I learnt from those two calls is that the most powerful act on earth is getting another person’s communication. If we could do that one thing, the whole world would be transformed. It is simple and at the same time it really takes something. It takes something because, mostly, as human beings, we are not aware what it is we are communicating. It takes another person who is attentive and generous enough to listen for our communication and give it back to us so we can hear it for ourselves.
By that one act hangs the world.
Image: Lobster telephone (Aphrodisiac telephone), 1936, Salvador Dalí