Two weeks ago, I was lying in a delirious fever in a remote beach village in Brazil. On the phone, I was talking with my sister. She’s a trained doctor and knew my particular case well. She was trying to convince me to return home for treatment. I didn't want to go.
She would tell me, it's very dangerous for me to be sick without proper medical care, especially since we didn’t know why I was sick. Especially since I had gone through a severe viral infection only 3 months earlier.
What did I do?
I would retort: People get fever all the time. It's common around here. I don't need to leave. Luckily, she knew what to do: she drilled me on the specifics of my particular case until I couldn't counteract.
I found myself on the plane back home the next day (and got better, thanks for asking).
Soon after, I had lunch with a wildly successful entrepreneur who explained to me what had happened.
What she said stuck with me because I’m all about connection. I love understanding how us humans work. How we communicate. And she told me something that would help me understand why my message (or that of my clients) was often not getting through.
You know, we never like taking in info that doesn't fit our belief system. The doctor sitting in front of you and saying you have to quit smoking. Your wife telling you you'll need to get your ass off the couch. Your friend telling you you got anger issues.
When something comes up that doesn't fit, there are three things we do. They're like filters, dictating what info gets through to our mind and how. We all do all of these, but we usually have one predominant one.
Remember, I do it. You do it. We all do it. So, what to do about it?
First, you'll need to spot what type of a person you're dealing with. A deleter, a distorter or a generalizer (like me)? Different people require different measures.
When talking with a deleter, repetition is key. Please get off the couch. Please get off the couch. Please get off the couch. (If you actually do that, I'll bet they won't be happy. But they'll get the message.) And here's a killer phrase: "Can you please repeat to me what you heard me say, so we can be sure we understand each other?"
When talking with a distorter, have them repeat back to you what you said. The above phrase works wonders here, too. Correct their distorted rephrase as needed.
When talking with a generalizer, bring them back to the specifics until they yield. Remember my sister. It’s also the doctor telling you that it’s your lungs that are getting damaged. It’s your life you’re putting at risk.
One more key thing: You’ll always want to pack some empathy along with your message. Because hearing something that contradicts our beliefs is HARD. It’s unpleasant. So instead of going all righteous on other people’s asses, be empathetic. Acknowledge the hard work and sacrifices they’re going through as they are hearing what you’re saying. Say things like, “I know it’s tough to quit smoking.” or “I’m sorry that what I’m saying is unpleasant.” My sister said to me she understands it must feel horrible to have to return so unexpectedly. That’s what got me to listen. A little bit of empathy goes a long way.
But of course, noticing these filters in others is only half the fun. The real magic happens when you start noticing them in yourself. Suddenly, you have nowhere to hide. No excuses.
When you got no excuses, you just have to deal with your shit.
And you might just find yourself getting your ass off the couch, quitting smoking and dealing with your anger issues.
Miika Karppinen. Adventurer, public speaking coach, storyteller.