Reading Between the Lines
How many situations can you remember where the words people used didn’t actually convey what they were thinking, how they were feeling, or what actions they intended to take? In some ways, the world would be a much simpler place if everyone said exactly what they mean. Since we don’t live in this utopia, it’s important to learn and understand how to read between the lines, to hear what isn’t said rather than what is.
In her article “3 Ways People Aren’t Saying What They Really Think,” Monica Torres addresses the phenomenon of cloaking one’s thoughts in polite, subtle phrasing and provides tips on navigating the real conversation going on underneath. Here are our favorite points:
- Learn to read body language. There are so many non-verbal communication cues we use when interacting with each other, I doubt they’ve all been cataloged. Rather than focusing on what a person says, try observing whether they make eye contact with you when they say it. Are they playing on their phone? Drumming their fingers? These behaviors indicate a person who is not actually listening (or doesn’t want to listen).
- Listen for repetition. When someone continues to say the same things to you over and over, they feel you are not listening. Perhaps they picked up on some non-verbal cues that imply you’ve tuned them out, or maybe they are simply trying to clue you in to something they think you’re missing. Either way, it’s important to acknowledge their words and take part in finding a solution.
- Pay attention to “warning words.” Torres specifically mentions the words “frustrated,” “uncomfortable,” and “disappointed” as words that always mean more than they might at first imply. When someone is frustrated, it usually means they are near the end of their rope; when someone is uncomfortable, it could mean that they actually feel threatened; and when someone is disappointed, especially with regard to one’s performance, it means that person is wondering whether one is truly capable of producing good work.