"Learning to live and living to learn"
How many times, when communicating with friend, colleague, direct report, or indeed life partner, have you found yourself saying something which encourages an emotional response, after which you recoil with an air of mystification and reply, “That’s not what I meant!!!”
Perhaps you said something in full knowledge that it “may” incite some negative response because your intention was to see what happens. In other words, you took a risk, but now you are forced into a process of damage limitation, often with the well-worn expression, “I’m only pulling your leg”. If your communication was with a life partner, then chances are you will, soon enough, be on your way to the florist.
Now Lily, (the dog who must be adored), is a master communicator who doesn’t waste time with such communication “faux pas”. To overcome this potential for miscommunication, she makes use of the doggie equivalent of the metaphor. Obviously, she can’t convey meaning through English or any other formal, spoken language so she uses her behavior to express the metaphor. For instance, when she needs to visit the little doggie room, she positions herself on the threshold of the door to the balcony in the living room and the message to her humans is clear. “Unless you want a rather pungent, yellow-tinged liquid ruining the “mock-parquet” flooring, you better take me to the river bank immediately. Or she may lie prostrate across the landing, looking up at you with a curiously accusatory look in her eye to convey the message, “if there isn’t some kind of meat content in this here bowl within the next three minutes, then you will be dealing with an acute case of malnutrition post haste, and by the end of the day you will be standing before the courts answering serious charges of animal cruelty.
When I observe our leaders across society, I’m always flabbergasted at the apparent failure to understand that “meaning is not in the words and behavior that you deploy but in the way such words and behavior are perceived”. Since I’m in the UK, I will refer to our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, as an example. I wonder does he ever consider the negative impact that he has on me, and I expect many others too, of that silly childish smirk, so visible around his mouth when he is trying to explain decisions that will affect us all. Or the rather blasé demeanor he adopts when addressing questions on such serious matters involving threat to life and limb, such as his asinine approach which is fuelling the looming resurgence of conflict in Northern Ireland. His failure to consider the impact of what he says, how he says it and what he does, inevitably leads to the “volte face” which is becoming a recognizable characteristic of his administration. I was led to believe that, after many years as a “hack” of sorts, Mr. Johnson had become a master communicator. But every time he speaks, I conclude that master communicator he is not. In fairness, I admit that Mr. Johnson does make good use of metaphorical devices but he does so with no real consideration of their impact, in my humble opinion. I think many of our leaders, Mr. Johnson included, could learn a valuable lesson from Lily, (the dog who must be adored).
Key Learning: Meaning is not in the words and behavior you use but in the way they are perceived. Learn from Lily and use metaphors to convey your meaning but in so doing, give careful consideration to the likely impact before you do. Think about that as you go about your week and it may save you a trip to the florist.