A friend recently complained to me about a certain girl who was proving hard to nail down for dates. I did what any friend would do and decided to write about it. So… this girl would always express enthusiastic interest, but whenever he tried to make specific plans, she evaded with some excuse, an apology and a promise for next week. I had to ask, “why do you keep trying with her?” He would point to all the encouraging things she’d said as proof that it was “going to happen.” Wrong.
The problem with words.
Our ability to communicate through language is an amazing gift, but over-reliance on it can backfire. By saying the right words at the right times, others easily convince us of things that simply aren’t true.
I do want to spend a weekend with your parents, but you know this weekend [blah blah blah]. And next weekend [tra la la].
When fed the right speech, we’re just as easily convinced to ignore/deny things which are probably true. This is especially easy when we want to believe what’s being said.
He and I are just friends, and I don’t have anyone else to eat lunch with. And he really needed someone to talk to last Saturday night.
When someone is repeatedly sending mixed signals (like my friend’s lady friend), you just have to block out the false signal to know the truth. It’s pretty straightforward; there are only two types of ‘signals’ we send each other as human beings:
1) what we say (or write, in e-mails, text messages etc.); and
2) what we do (our actions, how we physically spend our time).
In a healthy situation, there is consistency between what people say and what they do. But when there is a discrepancy, we must prioritize the signals. We’ve all heard that “actions speak louder than words,” but why is that true? Because actions are so much harder to fake.
It’s easy to make an excuse, give a false promise or tell a white lie when we don’t want to do something (but don’t want to say so). On the other hand, it’s exhausting and sometimes even painful to spend time and energy actually doing something we don’t want to (and not surprisingly, people rarely do).
So go deaf.
Knowing that words are cheap, how can we filter through what people say when their actions aren’t matching up? Don’t even try. Seriously. Just stop paying attention to the noise. Go deaf and you will know the truth. It won’t take long.
I’m not suggesting you ignore anyone. Just completely and totally stop analyzing or considering anything they say (good or bad) and focus exclusively on what they do. If this seems too simple or obvious, I encourage you to try it…
Try ‘listening’ only to someone’s physical actions for even a week. In reality this is very hard to do because we’re eager to accept excuses and make exceptions to support the idea of how we want things to be. But when we give no consideration to rationales, reasons, justifications or explanations, all we have left is action, and sometimes the truth of action is disappointing.
For example, if my friend had paid no attention to the reasons/stories/excuses this girl gave him, he would have understood her more quickly and clearly: as someone who didn’t show up, who wasn’t around, who just wasn’t interested.
This idea isn’t all about doom and gloom. It works just as effectively with someone who says disappointing things or acts disinterested but always shows up with time and energy in the end. When you’re just not sure, go deaf and you will know the truth.