“I love you.” — Goodnight.
“I’ll miss you.” — I’ll be back before you know it.
“I like spending time with you.” — Good.
“Could you review the attached and let me know your preference?” — Are you coming to the meeting on Thursday?
The art of the non-topical response. Some people have it down pat while others answer your questions with the meticulousness of an OCD CPA with a 1040 in his hands. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as of late (and not alot…definitely a lot, though).
When people don’t or won’t respond to what you say and tend to deflect the conversation, I really think it says one of three things:
I don’t care what you just said – I’m going to talk about what I want to talk about. It’s the egocentric response. ME ME ME. Admit it – they completely ignored you and went off on a one-way trip to MeVille and left you on the pier wondering why you didn’t bring any luggage. We’ve all done it and it’s a pretty asshole move.
I’m not listening to you. That’s right, I’m not listening. I’m in my own head and for whatever reason it is, I can’t even hear you right now. So there. Hey – is that Elvis?
I heard you loud and clear and don’t have the balls to respond. Awwyeah. This is a common one. When something scares us, freaks our shit out, or in some cases, delights us, we can’t bring ourselves to utter the truth in return. So we say something that’s kinda what we think the other person wants us to hear. It’s a total Hail Mary move, saving our ass and the feelings of the person in front of us because we’re too chicken shit to say whatever it is we’re thinking, good or bad.
They all have something in common, however.
Hurt and frustration.
Tell me, my monkeys – how annoying is it to have to have three conversations in order to get someone to answer your question? How much time does it waste to send 4 emails on one subject when you can’t get the other person to focus? It’s like the world has ADD and we’re chasing it down with Ritalin.
How hurtful it is to sit in front of someone who professes to love you who can’t bring themselves to speak the words? Who responds with “goodnight” instead of “I love you, too?” Granted, words are precious and shouldn’t be wasted. There’s a certain sweetness that accompanies the knowledge that the person in front of you, whether lover, colleague or friend, is saying exactly what they mean and it’s genuine. But the non-topical response hurts and leaves room for question.
What’s so scary about actually telling the truth in life? Do we spare feelings more through pure honesty or through the little tango dances we do around issues that make us uncomfortable? Why can’t we say the GOOD things that scare us? Not saying them makes them…well, bad. Something to fear.
I don’t know about you, but I like to be uncomfortable. I relish that itchy feeling in my pants (and NOT the one that requires a trip to the free clinic). I want to be challenged. I want to say what no one else is willing to. I want to throw myself under love’s bus and get run over (repeatedly). When you’re uncomfortable, you offer yourself the greatest possible outcome: joy.
I went to a baseball game last night for the first time in over a year with Ryan, Elisa and her wife, Meg. I sat there watching a field full of players who make millions of dollars each year to be uncomfortable. They slide through dirt, they make moves that have no guarantee of success…they steal home base.
God, I want to steal home base. I want the people I work with to slide into that fucker and pray to whatever god they know that they didn’t just get tagged-out…and if they did, be ready to take that same risk again next game. Those players are paid well for their topical responses and you never see the second base man sitting down with a coloring book when a line drive comes his way with a runner on first.
Here are my thoughts on the bullshit art of the non-topical response:
- If you can’t say it, find a way.
- If you can’t say it, perhaps you don’t mean it.
- If you can’t say it and need to find the inspiration to say it, think of how you’d feel if you never again got the opportunity to say it (as many people each day never do).
- Understand what the person in front of you needs. Don’t assume anything and no one’s a mind reader. Ask.
- You can’t expect anyone to read your mind, so open your pretty little mouth and SAY WHAT YOU NEED.
- If you’ve said what you need and still can’t get what you want or need…maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your audience.
Time is precious, and non-topical responses waste time. They make us wonder why we wasted our breath and our bandwidth. Stop wasting people’s time and answer the damn question already. Don’t be cruel – be present. People deserve our attention because we demand it from them without even knowing it.