Some of you may have read my column last week. If so, you may recall that the focus was on how listening skills have diminished today in comparison to the degree in which people listened in the past.
As I was writing last Sunday’s column, my thoughts repeatedly turned to the way people speak with others. Too often there is a lack of purpose, concern and sincerity.
There is no better example of this than when one encounters someone else and the first question posed is, “How are you doing?” Most of you have had this experience. What is the issue with having such a question asked? Well, there should be none.
The problem, however, is that on too many occasions the person asking the question, does not wait for a reply. Obviously, they are not interested in the response. A perfect illustration of this involved a major contractual issue, in which I was involved, in East Orange, New Jersey, some years ago.
I received a telephone call from an attorney and friend that was working on a project with me. It was not on one occasion but on numerous occasions. She would call and asked, “Alonzo, how are you doing?” I would answer, purposefully anticipating how she usually reacted to my standard response to this question, “I am not doing well.” Her response, not once, not twice, but practically each time we had this encounter, “Oh, good.”
Obviously, she was not listening or had no concern about my response and could care less about how I was feeling; and, permitted my response to go in one ear and out the other.
Well, the lack of sincerity when communicating with others is something that is quite obvious in conversations today. But, I can vividly recall parents, back in the day, instilling in their children the importance of not saying something unless they truly meant it.
Let me revisit my “not doing well comment” with my attorney and friend. Try testing the sincerity of conversations you have with friends and associates in the near future. When you greet someone, they will typically greet you with that standard line, “Good morning, how are you doing?” Do not answer immediately but stop and look them squarely in their eyes. Then ask, “How much time you have?” That question may be followed by suggesting that the two of you go somewhere, sit down and have a meaningful conversation as you wanted them to know exactly how things are going for you. Trust me, you will get a strange look!
In all likelihood, this person will not ask you this question again. You get my point; people just talk and say things or ask questions from habit rather than out of concern or care. I am not alone when it comes to observing this lack of sincerity with regard to things that are said or spoken.
Bill Murphy Jr. posted an online article on March 18, 2015, “17 Things Happy People Say Every Day,” in which he also provides everyday examples of interactions with others that conjure up examples of the lack of sincerity in communicating.
Many of you can relate to these communication practices. If you value the significance of your communication skills, think about how they impact on what you say and what is said to you as you can make the words you utter less significant because of the lack of sincerity. Here is one that many of us frequently encounter. You come into contact with someone and one of the first things out of their mouth is, “I am happy to see you.” Or, it may be words such as, “I am always happy to see you.” In coming into contact with another person, no words could be more insincere. These words are uttered on many occasions when deep down inside you are sorry that you came into contact with the person.
In some cases, you saw the person from a distance and went out of your way not to make contact. Regardless of the circumstances, you have experienced cases where you must communicate a feeling of appreciation or positive feelings, and you dare not give any indication that your feelings are totally the opposite.
Think about those days when you visited a newborn and the baby’s parents. You know what is expected! So, you smile and say in a very warm manner. “Oh, what a cute baby” when deep down inside you know that there is nothing cute about the newborn baby. You dare not say what is really on your mind as truth be told, too often babies are not cute. So, you simply say nothing or you may play it safe and say, “Oh, what a nice baby.” Or, you say, “How cuddly.” But, today, the cute description of the newborn baby has been left, back in the day.
Whenever I think about experiences where one has been honest and sincere, I think of the purchase of my first luxury automobile. Back in the late 1960s, while most of my friends were purchasing Cadillacs, a Thunderbird or a Buick Deuce and a quarter, I purchased a pre-owned silver and black Mercedes Benz, 250 SE. I thought that it was one sharp automobile. Upon rushing over to my parents’ home to show off my prized purchase, my sister came out to my automobile, looked it over and asked, “What possessed you to buy such an ugly car?” This was a classic case of honesty and sincerity in the communications process.
Then, there was the situation some years ago, while attending an international urban education conference in Sweden. I was standing with a group of school superintendents praising the speech that had been recently given by the country’s minster of education. Most of us were attempting to be politically correct and were giving very positive remarks about the speech. There were comments such as, “great speech” or “you hit it out of the park” or “you were outstanding.” I can tell you, as one who listened to the speech carefully, it was average at best. But I, like most superintendents that were present, wanted to be respectful.
Out of nowhere, a superintendent that will remain nameless, stepped forward and said, “I listened to you and I did not miss a word and you did not say s---.” (He used the ‘S’ word.” Well, truth be told, this superintendent was telling the truth, but none of us wanted to be honest for fear of offending the education minister. So, we continued that pattern of being insincere in communicating with others; not what we did, back in the day.
I suspect that there are numerous other interactions you have had with others in which the sincerity of the words discussed were questionable. How often have you been told by someone that they are sorry? I was told by a friend that this phrase is so overused that it ought to be retired. How often have you seen a movie and because all of your friends have been raving about the movie, you join them by saying, “The movie was outstanding”? But, deep down inside, you thought the movie was horrible. In cases where a friend or an associate has poor hygiene, what do you say? Usually, you say nothing as the subject is far too delicate. You cannot say what you are thinking; you “stink” would not be well received. Your prospective wife prepares dinner for you and you had better acknowledge that the meal was outstanding. Of course, if the dinner was lousy, you cannot be honest and sincere in such a situation. I have no doubt that some of you complimented a young lady about the dress she was wearing or praised a young man for his outfit when, in both instances, they were awful. How often have you told someone that you miss them? I suspect that you routinely say this to others. So, your son or daughter brought their date to your home for a first meeting. You greet the date and what do you tell your son or daughter? He or she seems to be a “nice person” is a common response. But, this is not what you tell your spouse or your adult friends. You tell them that the date is not for your child and you are going to find a way to end the relationship.
Even in communications with one’s child, the lack of sincerity in the communications process can be a big deal. Then there is that expression that almost all of us have used at one time or other. “I love you” is overused and is an expression that lasts, in too many cases, for a minute. For those of you that grew up in the pre-60s, telling someone that you loved them had meaning and purpose, back in the day.
So, in keeping with the spirit of this column, I thank you for reading it, and I am being sincere.
In going forward in life, you should be sincere and honest in what you say to others? With regard to this thought, I agree! But, unfortunately, or some may say, fortunately, what is said by many today are expressions that we would dare not utter with a lack of sincerity, back in the day.