Dancing around the Unsaid

Anyone remember years ago when the sitcom Three’s Company took on the topic of truth?  Jack had been caught lying to a girlfriend (again) and vowed that from that point on he would always tell the truth.  Of course, he ended up saying things that insulted his friends, and it was good for a laugh.  The moral of the story was that sometimes telling the truth must be weighed carefully based upon how the truth will impact another.

However, I sometimes think that there is another side to this….what I would call the “unsaid”…..you know someone has something to say but for some reason, does not.   It could be erring on the side of saying nothing on the chance that what you say may be somehow taken wrong.   Or, it could be saying something so delicately that no one can figure out what’s really being said.   For most of us, in the absence of accurate information from credible sources, we form our own hypotheses.  In organizations tasked with doing work and achieving results, this is usually a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict.

In the sitcom, the truths Jack spoke were personal – he said things that were personally insulting – better to get a laugh and to make a point.  However, in organizations, work IS communication and dancing around the “unsaid” wastes time and energy that we just don’t have in today’s busy world.

Let’s step back and debrief Jack’s experience, and possibly take a couple lessons for ourselves.  From my vantage point I see three powerful statements.

  • First, stay professional, and avoid the personal.  There is no need to ever have conversations in a professional arena on a personal level.
  • Second, say what you mean clearly and tactfully.  It is very easy to muddy up the message by trying to say it softly.
  • Third, assume positive intent of others.  By assuming that what another is saying is intended to help or improve, you are less inclined to become defensive.  When you are less defensive, you ask better questions and arrive at the crux of the conversation more quickly.  You can then move on to solutions.

The story of “Jack’s truth” strikes me every time I have a conversation with someone who just isn’t saying what seems to be on their mind and that happens fairly frequently.

There are probably many reasons why people dance around the unsaid.  Perhaps they have a hidden agenda they don’t want to reveal.  Perhaps there is not yet a sense of trust sufficient to risk saying what’s on one’s mind.  Perhaps confidence is lacking.  But if work truly IS based on communication, this is something that deserves attention and practice.  And trust.

Those are my thoughts on the “great unsaid”.  Would love to hear others’.

The picture is of the Amalfi Coast – I could find no greater truth than the beauty of that picture.

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