What Traveling Taught Me About Communication
Updated: Dec 31, 2018
And why it's not good to expect others to read your mind.
It is not my job to anticipate the needs of others.
Somehow, the opposite of this statement has become a social norm in America.
Maybe it’s a result of server culture, where ‘the dream server’ is at your table and handing you whatever it is you wanted before the thought was even fully formed in your head.
Maybe it’s a result of the politeness we pride ourselves on in regions such as the South, Midwest, and the Northwest, where we’re being discourteous if a person we’re interacting with has to actually express their dissatisfaction at something concerning us. Where a person’s displeasure ought to be anticipated, and no one should have to stoop to ask for what they want. How undignified!
Here’s an example. Jane Doe is standing at the bus stop. She happens to have her bag on the one seat available. Sweet Mary Jane is also standing at the bus stop. The fires of hell are brimming underneath her sweet facade.
“Why is she taking up the only seat??” “This lady is so rude!” “She thinks her bag is more entitled to the seat than me?!” “Ugh I hate her!”...are all thoughts that may be going through Sweet Mary Jane’s head. But does she speak up and rationally ask the woman standing next to her if she can have the seat? Of course not!
Her face slowly turns from all smiles to a bitter sourness, as more and more time progresses without Jane Doe realizing how discourteous she is being and move her bag. Finally the bus arrives and the ladies board, the one blissfully ignorant of the fact that for the remainder of the bus ride she has a new sworn enemy.
Was it really Jane Doe’s job to anticipate the needs of Sweet Mary Jane? Absolutely not. Just like it’s not your job to read minds.
A mature human being can ask for what they want, in a way that is still polite.
Sweet Mary Jane could have said, “I’d like to sit down, can you move your bag?”
Situation handled. Fires of doom in Sweet Mary Jane’s soul now just the usual twinkling starshine.
I sincerely believe that lack of communication is how a lot of hate in America is fueled.
Trying to anticipate the needs of others has created a lot of stress in my life. Concerning partners, friends, bosses, colleagues—not speaking my own wants and instead making the suggestions that I think will please them.
Feeling as if me asking for what I want is an impolite thing to do.
Working myself into a frenzy thinking over and over “Am I in someone’s way” “Am I doing this wrong?” “Do they think I’m rude?” “Do they want me to do something differently?” and on and on.
Enough is enough!
In the last year I had the fortune of living in a community of incredibly courageous and mature communicators who helped me to realize that decidedly not anticipating others needs is a totally acceptable boundary that one can set for oneself.
But it goes both ways too. Just like you can’t expect me to read your mind, I can’t expect you to read mine.
Since we began our world nomad year 3 months ago, the restaurants of Europe have been the ultimate reform school for Sweet Meek Me and Polite Franklin to learn how to speak up for ourselves. We have encountered servers here who have made a wide arc around our table so as to avoid contact, servers who have seemed as if they were coming to talk to us then veered left out the front door to smoke a cigarette, servers who have disappeared after our food was brought out, along with the entire restaurant staff. Where do they all go??
I’m not saying all this to slander the European service industry. They operate differently than American servers, and they are absolutely lovely in this different way. But an aspect of this is that they aren’t at our beck and call every 5 minutes. They force us to use different means of communication to get their attention, at times including waving them down or jumping up and down boisterously if necessary, and when the time is appropriate, invoking the power of the spoken word.
And this is all fine. Most of them work without a tip-system, or where tips aren’t a substantial part of their income. They don’t need to fake niceties; they can be their genuine overworked and tired service industry worker selves. And we learn to not expect them to anticipate our needs, but instead to express to them what our needs are.
One of my new mantras:
If someone doesn't like the way I am doing something and they can't talk to me about it, then that’s too bad for them.
With the addendum:
And if I happen to pick up on someone’s fires of doom gaze *and am feeling nice*, I can initiate the interaction with “Is there something bothering you?” And end with “You’ve got to remember to speak up. No one can read your mind but you.” Otherwise, I'm not going to stress about it. Their lack of ability to communicate is not my problem.
Hey, if you are exceptionally good at anticipating other’s needs and it gives you joy to do so, then by all means keep at it. But don’t expect others to do it for you.