Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Delphic Maxims #6

Let not your tongue outrun your thought (Γλωτταν ισχε)

There are many Maxims dealing with talking and silence, and the appropriate times to utilize them. This one seems to be the broadest, and the most applicable to our own generation of people. It is timeless, really, and exists outside of any particular culture. It applies equally to everyone.

I talk a lot. Anyone who knows me personally, knows just how true that statement really is. I talk almost non-stop. About half the time, my active brain keeps ahead of my tongue, but often enough, the mouth gets ahead. When that happens, I'm in trouble. Things come out of the mouth that I probably would not say in a better moment.

When I stop to think before I talk, I rarely make errors in what I am saying. It's the moments when I snap out a quick retort, or verbally strike back at someone for something I have heard them say, that I run into problems. I suspect it's the same for most people. The thing which gets us in trouble is not the talking itself, but the timing of the talking.

We need to take a pause in our verbal patter. By stopping to breathe, to concentrate and think on what we want to communicate, we present ourselves and our ideas better. Gray often talks about communication having four parts: What I say; what you hear; what you say; what I hear. There's a fifth part, too: what other people hear. All four parts must occur for communication to have taken place. Otherwise, it's just words, flogging the air.

An example may help.

What I say: You never take me out to dinner!
What Gray hears: You're cheap and don't spend enough on me, and so you must think I'm like your ex-wife.
What Gray says: I do take you out to dinner. We had Taco Bell just last week.
What I hear: I don't really want to go out to a real dinner, so I'm going to keep putting things off by going to fast food drive-throughs, thereby always having an excuse.

What neither of us hears is me, saying that it isn't really the dinner that I want, but his time and his love. The idea of going out to dinner is simply an excuse, which is why Taco Bell sounds so offensive. At the end of this, if we aren't aware of what the other person has "heard" from us, we can easily walk away ticked off and annoyed. The phrase, "You just don't understand me!" comes to mind.

Now think of this, using good communication:

What I say: You never take me out to dinner!
What Gray hears: You're cheap and don't spend enough on me, and so you must think I'm like your ex-wife.
What Gray says: I'm hearing you say that I never take you out to dinner, but I remember us going to Taco Bell last week. I'm also getting the impression that you would like me to take you somewhere expensive...
What I say: Huh? Taco Bell isn't dinner, that's just food in the car. What I really want is to spend some time with you, where I don't have to worry about dishes or kids. I need to cuddle and to talk. I like going to Enotria's because the servers are prompt but don't bug you, and the tables are far apart so we can talk and not worry about what others might hear.
What Gray hears: I want to spend time with you and I don't want it to include kids. I need girly stuff. I want to go to Enotrias not because it is expensive but because it has privacy.
What Gray says: Ah, I didn't realize that. I don't have money for Enotria's right now, but if it's privacy you want, perhaps we could ask sis and Farnham to take the kids out to the farm on Saturday, and stay home alone all day together? We can order in something not quite as expensive, and still have time alone.
What I hear: I really love you and I'm trying to find a compromise I can live with.
What I say: You're amazing, and that sounds great!

By using the phrase, "What I'm hearing..." from time to time (not every sentence, but when you're truly unsure) actually allows the person talking to find out just how well they're communicating an idea. If you continually give each other feedback, you allow your partner(s) the opportunity to re-phrase what they've said, to get across the RIGHT information, instead of just what you THINK they are trying to say.

What does all this have to do with a Maxim written in Greece some couple of thousand years ago? I suspect that men and women (and men and men, and women and women) have had these communication problems at least that long, and likely much longer. The author of our Maxim is exhorting people to work at communication, rather than letting communication run away with you. Think first, THEN talk. That's universal!
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