So you’re in an important meeting and you’re doing all your rapport-building stuff, maintaining good eye contact, listening actively and waiting for the opportune moment to offer up your point of view. Two hours later, ‘who said what to whom’ starts to become a vague recollection and by the end of the week you’re post-rationalising the whole thing in your favour.
The trouble with good old verbal communication is while it’s great for building relationships it’s pretty hopeless for remembering detail.
Some years ago, I read (or heard) something that made a big impression on me. “We often forget what someone looked like, we sometimes forget what they said, but we never forget how they made us feel.” Isn’t that so true? Think back to when you met someone for the first time. Any idea what they were wearing? Or what you talked about? But I bet you remember if you liked them or not.
We humans are still animals and we’re conditioned to behave in a certain way with other human animals. Our natural instinct is to want to mate, fight or play (think dogs) and remembering ‘detail’ sort of gets in the way of all that. So when we go into the doctor’s surgery determined to find out exactly why we’re not sleeping/eating/concentrating/getting rid of waste as well as we once did, we listen, nod, smile and leave, remembering only our version of events. Too polite, too busy or too embarrassed to write down the doctor’s actual diagnosis, we remember certain bits only, usually the ones we’re already familiar with.
We’d be far better off dispensing with some of the niceties and doing some proper two-way communication. That means being prepared to admit that we’re not quite so knowledgeable on certain subjects and saying, “sorry, would you mind explaining that again.” It also means losing eye contact briefly while you jot down a few notes. Nobody is going to think you terribly rude if you say, “sorry, I’d just like to write this down so I have a clear understanding of what you’re saying.” In fact, they’re probably going to feel flattered that you’re taking what they’re saying so seriously.
So the next time you’re having an important conversation, stop trying to be so nice and concentrate on its purpose. Words spoken are words lost if no-one ever remembers them.