I have always tried to be very genuine and straightforward with my kids. When they do something good, I come down to their level, look them in the eye, and tell them how proud I am of them. My kid then promptly bursts into tears and runs away. I get mad because I was trying to be nice and now she’s saying crazy stuff about how she doesn’t like dad and everyone’s feelings are hurt and we stomp off in separate directions all wondering what in the world just happened.
I recently had someone ask me a very observant question. He asked me, “how do you discipline her?” I thought about it for a moment and said, “I get down to her level, look her in the eyes, and explain why that was not good.”
See, children are amazing at reading body language. They interpret you posture and make decisions long before a single word comes out of your mouth. So, when I approached her like she did something wrong, she was mentally preparing for being scolded. My intention was to build her up, but the impact actually broker her down.
Okay, so then how do I normally praise her? Well, we do a lot of cheers and blowing up our high-fives. That is what she associates to positive reinforcement. When I do that, she gets energized. My body language is telling her she doesn’t have to worry because this is good. I can’t just switch it up on her and expect her to adjust.
As a communicators, we have to pay attention to the reactions of our listeners. Did you say something positive and a kid run away crying, or a friend get steaming mad? Why did that happen? I think if your honest with yourself, you can generally figure it out, at least with a little trial and error. Remember that there is so much more to communication than just the words you say, it’s also how you say it. Your body communicates more than your mouth, and it speaks sooner. Your listener will have already written a whole story about you in their head based solely on your mannerisms (my kid thought she was in trouble long before I said anything), or generate a bias based on previous experience with other who carried themselves similarly. The communicator then has to overcome those made up expectations before their words can even hope to take root.
If you don’t have the luxury of knowing the person through and through, or you just can’t figure out why they react a certain way, you need to ask them. Straight out, “why did you get mad when I said that?” Then listen and empathize. If you can’t empathize then you’ll never be able to adjust in order to get your message across. Now, I am not someone who is going to say that you, the communicator, are responsible for anticipating every presupposition, or life experience of the listener. I decidedly did not walk on egg shells when I was supervisor. It’s a 50/50 split. The listener has to consider the communicator equally. So after listening and making sure you understand them, then ask your employee to listen and empathize. What comes from this is usually respect. Respect is crucial for good communication. If the listener respects you, they will forgive the initial negative response and allow the message to come through regardless of the words.