Those of us with the “heart of a teacher” have an innate urge to explain so we can foster understanding. Or greater understanding. Especially when we’re asked a question.
The other day I was talking with a gentleman and attempting to answer his question. It was a question I had been asked before so I didn’t hesitate to provide a thorough, albeit succinct answer. The answer is tried and true. Honest, forthright, to the point, but very authentic.
But first, a bit of background about this conversation.
We’re a time zone apart and at least a dozen states separate us.
We had been missing each other all day…by now we had each engaged in a short voicemail dance. He wanted to talk with me. We had exchanged emails prior to the voicemail exchanges. This wasn’t a call he was avoiding. He sought out this conversation.
So “tag,” I was it. I called him back. This time, he picked up right away. I did what I always do (a professional habit developed when I was young), I asked the question, “Is this a good time to talk?”
“Yes, it’s an ideal time,” he responded.
“Great, I know you’ve got questions so I’ll answer anything I can,” I said.
Within seconds the question was posed and I began to answer. Comprehensive, but only about 3-minutes long. Maybe 2.
“I hope that helps clarify this project for you. Do you have any other questions?” I asked.
“I think that’s the longest answer I’ve ever heard to a single question,” he said.
Offended, but not showing it, I sincerely replied, “I apologize.”
Then…I shut up.
He didn’t do what most people would do in that situation…say something like, “Oh, that’s quite alright, I appreciate the details.” No, this man insulted me, then went right on with another question.
Even my dogs learn pretty quick when I scold them. Last time I checked, I’m smarter than my dogs. My wife doesn’t always think so, but I think she’s wrong.
Hesitant to even answer any more questions, I kept my answers as short as possible. I was careful to avoid coming across like a jerk (like him). I concentrated on NOT giving as I had received. It just usually never works. Whoever said “fight fire with fire” never successfully put out a fire. Besides, turn the other cheek is sound advice.
My mind said, “Say no more!” I obeyed. Sorta. Short, concise answers with extremely limited details. They seemed good enough for him. Not a naturally inquisitive fella, I supposed.
“Fine,” I thought. No problem. I’m not trying to be his buddy. I’m just trying to explain a project that has big benefits to him and no cost whatsoever, aside from a bit of his time. It’s a non-business project for me, but it has some serious business benefits for him.
For the rest of the call I purposefully toned down the energy in my voice to mirror his lack of personality. Hopeful that if I sounded more like him in tone and pace, he might warm up.
I carefully measured my words, tone, pace and length of my talking. The call ended well enough, but I thought of the countless thousands of interactions I’ve had in my life – with people from all over the world. And I considered (thankfully) how infrequently this has ever happened to me. I’m pretty accomplished at breaking the ice with people. Mr. Iceburg won this round.
After more than 15 minutes on the phone it was very clear to me – he’s just not a friendly man. Silently I wondered about this man’s family and friends. Surely they see somebody very different than the man I saw (heard). But I don’t know.
My conclusion, which admittedly may be incorrect, was that he’s a self-centered, impatient man mostly interested in his own gain.
Which is perfectly fine with me, given the nature of my interaction with him (or any future ones I may have). It’ll take a lot more than his crassness to put me off. I’ve got more tenacity in my left (non-dominate) hand than he’s got in his whole body!
It’s just likely his nature. I’m too experienced to take it personally even though I did take the challenge very seriously. The challenge to crack his communication code.
We’ve got another call scheduled soon. We’ll see how that one goes, but I’ve learned my lesson. I’m going to shut my mouth and let him lead the way. I’m going to do everything I can to see if I can’t find a way to get him to warm up. Challenges like this invigorate me. It’s a study of psychology and communication.
I’m determined to win the next round. I’ll let you know how I fare!
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