A few weeks ago, I had my garage painted by a fifty-two-year-old woman who just wanted to talk.

She’s an individual contributor, proud of her craftsmanship, and wanted to take advantage of the companionship to make small talk and chat about her life.

I work from home. I’m alone all day. I get it.

So this lady is chatting about life, and she started complaining about hot flashes. She said something like, “I can’t tell if it’s menopause or something else, but I’m always warm. Couldn’t be the change, could it? I’m too young.”

I said, “Nope. Sounds about right.”

She said, “But I’m only 52.”

I’m like, “Sounds like menopause to me.”

Then I went inside and made myself a snack, wholly oblivious to the fact that this woman wasn’t asking me for my medical advice, but rather, asking me to reassure her that she’s not old.

I’m so oblivious, in fact, that I didn’t even realize what the painter was asking until my husband said — Oh my God, Laur, that was rude.

And I’m like — I know, it was rude of her to talk about menopause with a stranger, right?

He’s like — Didn’t you hear what she was asking you?

Then he repeated back the story and told me to listen. Very slowly, I emerged from the fog of my perspective and realized that I missed the signs of someone begging for a compliment.

I have a problem with saying the things I want to say and not the things that need to be heard.

When someone talks, I retreat into my brain and prepare the next point I’m about to make. Part of this is rooted in my ongoing anxiety disorder. I’m always in problem-solving mode because, clearly, someone is only talking to me because something is wrong.

And if I’m not trying to solve a problem, I’m in thought-leadership mode and ready to say something insightful. That’s because I think too highly of myself. Doesn’t everyone want to know what I think on every subject?

Basically, I suck at interpersonal communication. The reassuring news? I’m not alone. While you’re talking, you are also gazing inward and doing some “relational math” that calculates how much you like yourself, how much you like the other person, and whether or not there’s anything to gain from tuning in versus tuning out.

So, today, I want to talk about interpersonal communication and relational math on #failchat. What are the building blocks of healthy communication? How do you get it right? How do most people get it wrong? And I’d like to know if everybody — from your colleagues to your siblings — is worthy of the same amount of relational effort?

Hope to see you today at 1 PM Eastern.

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  1. One thing those really concerned about interpersonal communication might try is a course in Active Listening. Yes, it can be taught and when I took in college, it was one of the toughest courses I took. And it takes constant practice and effort to keep from falling back into old habits.

    Most of us don’t really listen to others, not even our spouses, kids, or best friends. It’s sad, but true. Active listening involves asking questions, paraphrasing back to the speaker to make sure you are understanding, etc.

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