Friday, February 6, 2009 by Dave Blum

During the debrief of my Team Efficiency Workshop this past Monday with Wells Fargo, I overhead the following dialogue:

Mary:  “At the beginning of the game, I was really wishing that you’d have shared the instructions more with me.”

Liz:  “Well why didn’t you say so?  I’m not a mind reader you know!”
This was one of the most important team building ideas to come out of the session:  namely, that none of us can read minds.  If you want something to happen, more often than not you have to ask for it.   It relates back to my very first blog entry, posted on October 30th, 2008, when I wrote that we are all icebergs, with only a little of ourselves actually visible to the public.  Our private thoughts, feelings, hopes and desires are mostly hidden “below the surface level.”  So the question is — how do we voice our needs and expectations?  Because, whether you’re doing corporate team building activities, attending a workplace meeting, or talking with your spouse, it’s not always easy (or appropriate) to express your inner narrative.   On the one hand you have the extrovert, who gets into trouble for bluntly saying just exactly what’s on her mind, without filtering.  And on the other hand, you have the introvert, who suffers in silence while failing to express his silent processing and internal dialogue.

The key, I think, is becoming aware of your expectations in the moment.  During team building activities like the one above, Mary had a strong hope or expectation that Liz would share resources with her, so she could be involved.  When that didn’t happen, the result, for her, was both unexpected and disappointing.  What Mary needed to do, in the moment, was to simply state, “This is unexpected” or “This is disappointing.”  Liz would have asked for clarification, and Mary would have said, “I’ve been sitting here disappointed that I’m not seeing the rule sheet.  I was expecting to know what’s going on and I don’t, and that’s disappointing.”

I know, this sounds like a victim’s speech — “poor me, no one cares about me, etc.”  But if stated calmly and reflectively, without a lot of drama, the statements above become a kind of observational musing.  “I’m noticing that I’m feeling disappointment.  I’m feeling unfulfilled expectation.”   They open the door for your conversation partner to satisfy your needs, as follows:

Liz:  “Well, I wasn’t holding out on you on purpose!”
Mary:  “It’s okay.  I should have told you sooner, rather than clamming up”
Liz:  “No, it’s my fault, I’m pretty competitive and sometimes I tend to hog the materials.”

Is this easy?  Heck no!   Particularly for introverts, it’s absolutely habitual to think your thoughts quietly to yourself before voicing any opinions.  Moreover, those emotions of disappointment are often subconcious; you don’t even know you’re upset until the moment hs passed.  The trick is to get more aware of your feelings — to check in often with yourself, to ask,  “How am I feeling right now?”  And then, when you know what’s going on, to allow a tiny bit of that charge to trickle out.

“Well, this is an unexpected situation I’m in.  This isn’t what I was hoping for.”

Try it some time. You won’t be disappointed.