Years ago I taught high school on the island of Moen in the South Pacific. The school had nine languages represented and an international faculty. I learned much about my self and life — one of those things being that humor doesn’t easily translate from culture to culture.
I’ve a twisted New York sense of humor and enjoy teasing people. One day Ernie, a teacher from the Philippines, point-blank asked, “JP, why do you hate me?” Stunned, I reassured him that I didn’t hate him. But he proceeded to enumerate various times I joked with him, all of which he took as proof I despised him.
Ernie interpreted what I said in a certain way, i.e. that I hated him. He then turned his interpretation into a fact, after which he confronted me with the “fact” and demanded an explanation. Only problem — it wasn’t a “fact” that I hated him. My humor was not intended to hurt him, though that was its impact.
Last week I told you about Louise who thinks her supervisor, Anthony, doesn’t like her. However, she doesn’t know that for a fact because she’s never talked with him about their relationship.
Louise (and Ernie before her) is doing what so many of us do — she’s treating her interpretation of a situation as a “fact” when it’s not. So, I’m urging Louise to do something called “perception checking.” It’s a type of conversation where you seek clarity from the person whose actions are confusing you. It goes like this:
First ask the person for time to talk. It’s best to do this in person and not by email! Second, describe the behavior that’s confusing you, without attaching any judgment to it. In Louise’s case, she might say, “Anthony, you yelled at me in front of my team, you didn’t inform me of an important client meeting, and you’re slow to return my calls.” Third, offer at least two possible interpretations for why the person is behaving in this manner. “Anthony, I don’t know if you’re stressed and feel safe taking it out on me or if I’ve done something to offend you or if there’s something else going on.” Fourth, ask the person to clarify. “So, Anthony, what’s going on? Please help me understand.”
Is this an easy conversation to have? No. However, it gives the other person an opportunity to non-defensively explain their behavior. If, though, the person, simply says, “nothing is going on,” then repeat the steps until the person is able to offer some insight.
The beauty of this technique is that it helps to separate intent from impact and helps us get out of the soap opera we so easily create in our heads.
Please send your questions to JP Reynolds at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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