Ever emailed someone to ask for a favour and got nothing in reply? When they don’t respond at first, it might be easy to forgive the oversight.
You’re a pretty accommodating person and at first you assume they’re busy – which is fine, but you need to know, either way. So you send another message, and still, nothing.
Now they’re not picking up the phone either! Trying hard not to sound as irate as you feel you leave a message emphasizing that if you don’t hear back in the next 24 hours there won’t be enough time for them to help.
Frankly, it seems pretty rude. You’ve always helped them out in the past, and they don’t even have the grace to send you a message saying no?
So the next time you hear someone else intends to ask for their input, you tell them to find someone a little more reliable.
It seems some people are happy to get what they can from others, but think they’re far too important to help out in return.
When there’s more to the story than meets the eye
A few weeks later, you get an apologetic phonecall. Turns out your colleague was on holiday and forgot to set up his Out of Office email auto-responder.
Returning to an overflowing inbox of requests, they thank you for being so clear in your voicemail that the time for their input had passed – so they hadn’t needed to get back to you. Suddenly, it all makes sense. They weren’t ignoring you, judging you, or being selfish.
But when you assumed that they were choosing not to respond deliberately, you’d begun to behave as though that was the truth.
The chain reaction when they don’t respond
Now think about the person you’d told to look elsewhere for support.
What happens when your disorganised colleague offers them help with an upcoming event? Having heard that they can’t be relied on, they might well refuse. Why accept help from someone who was only going to let them down?
But when their offer is rebuffed, they might end up deciding it just isn’t worth going the extra mile for people who don’t value their support. Next time, they won’t bother.
What began as a misunderstanding has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One assumption leads to another
Very few of us have time to double check every piece of communication. It’s only natural to assume when you send a message that it’s been received and understood.
And yet, often, the opposite is true. The email you fire off quickly because you’re in a rush to make it to your son’s end-of-year performance comes off as unfriendly to the colleague still smarting from the row they had with their wife that morning.
Your supportive text sounds patronising to your sister when she reads it after a frustrating interaction with her boss.
What’s more, the reaction we have to what we think is going on can trigger the very behaviour we feel so annoyed about. Our belief that Dave is unhelpful stops us asking him for help – and so, he stops being helpful. Over time, a reputation is formed.
The Spiral of Disempowerment™ is the framework we use to describe the series of tiny interactions that can lead to deep and entrenched conflict.
Stepping out of the spiral
Awareness is the first step.
Next time you’re in a situation where someone hasn’t responded to you, notice the first thought that springs to mind. Do you decide they’re disorganised? Incompetent? Angry, and ignoring you on purpose?
And then, see if you can think of an alternative.
Are they furious… or just have too much on their plate?
Do they think your request is stupid… or are they worried they won’t live up to your expectations?
Have they forgotten… or are they dealing with a personal crisis that means they can’t respond to any messages right now?
Now, notice what a difference that makes to the way you feel about the situation.
You might be utterly convinced that your original assumption is true. This person really does never answer their emails. They really are out to get you. They’re definitely judging you for your request.
But imagine that the opposite is possible, and that there’s a very understandable reason for their lack of response.
Very often, we experience this on a physical level. Your shoulders drop. Your heart rate slows. You stop feeling anger, or resentment, and start to experience sympathy.
The solutions you think of are likely to expand too. When you’re “in the Green”, you have many more cognitive resources available to you, and you’re in an emotional state when you are able to think more calmly about the situation.
To explore the Spiral of Disempowerment™ for yourself, click here for our free download.
Over to you
Have you experienced this kind of miscommunication before, especially over the summer period? Can you relate to the chain reaction it can set off, and the impact it can have in future? Share your story in the comments below.
Want to master the tools you need to get back to green?
At our award-winning live workshop, we break down how conflict emerges, the effect it can have, and the simple strategies you can use to get out of the red every time. You’ll learn what your Operating System is and how it can change not only the way you respond to situations, but how you experience them too.
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Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi via Unsplash