resolving miscommunication: withholding understanding

every Monday morning i go to the same Starbucks after i drop my kids off for their one day of classes with a homeschool enrichment group.  i pay way too much for a coffee that will probably give me diabetes and revel in the start to my 7 hours of freedom.  but i’m not the only one who’s there every Monday before 9am.  there’s the group of older business men who take up the comfy chairs and make handshake deals about God knows what, the very friendly and always smiling guy in the wheelchair, at least 3 other nondescript people with macbooks like me and two guys who are working on a start up media marketing firm with a focus on visual media for conferences and the internet networking of multinational corporations.

did that last one sound oddly specific?  it’s because i sit next to these two most days and they aren’t exactly quiet.

they will be my example today.  we will call them Stan and Ollie.  Stan is short, round and convinced he’s smarter than Ollie.  Ollie is tall, slim, clearly intelligent, but easily bullied by Stan.

while discussing the ins and outs of getting their fledgling business off the ground, Stan delivers a plan that is obviously a serious departure from what they had originally agreed to.  with the power of bar graphs and meticulous notes, Ollie points out how Stan is veering from their chosen course of action.

Stan says, “i don’t remember any of that” and plows on with the new plan.  it was a dismissal of facts that was both masterful and shocking in its execution.  it was done with authority and confidence and left Ollie clearly doubting his own sanity even though he had 2 copies of their business plan on his side.

do i for one second think Stan actually forgot what was clearly weeks worth of preparation?  duh.  no.  what he was doing is something i see happening in all kinds of relationships.

he was withholding understanding.  it’s a classic strategy employed by those who only want to hear their own opinion.  they deny what you’re saying as being so far off they can’t even comprehend it and wah-la! argument over; at least in the mind of those who are like my Starbucks table-neighbor, Stan.

if the point you are trying to make or reasons you give have any basis in truth, but cut against what the other person wants to do or believe or feel, they will choose to not understand what you’re saying or dismiss it outright.

i could write out an awesomely effective list of how to not be Stan, but the answer is really pretty simple.  if you truly care about someone, you will strive for understanding in all things, not avoid it to suit your own ends.  you will listen and keep you big yap shut.  you will try to put yourself in the other persons size 10s and consider what they have to say as more important than your own pride.

if you are more like Ollie, you’re going to have to find your voice and not allow yourself to be bullied.  it’s not a battle for dominance, it’s an insistence on respect.  you need to be very specific about how you expect to be treated.  if the other person can not or will not do that, you need to move on to someone who will.  you can only fix you.  do not sell yourself so short that you are afraid to be without someone who will never respect what you have to say.  if they respond with regret, apology and a change in behavior, then awesome.  you may have reached a turning point in your relationship that heads to Healthytown.

so there.

having you ever been in a situation where you know what you’re saying is right but the other person refuses to acknowledge it?

have you ever been the one to withhold understanding?

should i sneakily flick tiny pieces of pumpkin bread at Stan and make him flail like a crazy person?

who are the people you meet in a Starbucks?


17 comments on “resolving miscommunication: withholding understanding

  1. Might be a waste of good pumpkin bread, really.

  2. El Guapo says:

    Nice way to redirect one situation into an allegory for another.
    Though what you say really is applicable to all forms of interpersonal communication.

    One important question – is there a Starbucks in Healthytown?

  3. notquiteold says:

    One trick people in my last job used to employ (against me, unfortunately). I was the forecaster and budgeter. If the numbers weren’t good, they’d say “That can’t be right.” And they’d just continue with what they wanted. Ignoring facts was just standard procedure. And by questioning my competence, they prepared the way to ignore any future “bad” numbers too.

  4. Love the turn-of-phrase, “withholding understanding” – it’s perfect! Great post.

    On an unrelated note, I hope you’re happy that I’ve got fictional infections from your biting assault over on Knox’s site……

  5. I didn’t know that you knew my room mates!!!??!? This is exactly what they do. Amazing.

  6. Becki says:

    though it’s not a dating relationship… my boss does this. He pulls the “Stan” nearly everyday, saying something along the lines of “that’s not what we discussed,” when it totally is and I have the email to prove it. But he scares me a little so I just say “ok” and do whatever the new plan is. it’s not ideal….

  7. 1. *diabeetus 2. Starbucks is the devil’s lair. 3. You need to pick up your chair next time you’re there and high five ol’ Stan in the face. Hard.

    Seriously, though, for some relationships, business or otherwise, there has to be a point where it’s just not a compatible relationship and must be deemed as such. I knew a Stan once. He was my boss for five years. He was also an old jackass. He never listened to anyone no matter how firm they were with him and no matter how much his decisions endangered his business (the one that paid me). There will always be Stans that will never release their understanding no matter how much the Ollies find their voice. And vice versa.

    My Stan? He lost his business.


  8. Lynelle says:

    I feel for Ollie. I was an Ollie in my 11 year marriage. Stan sounds like a sociopathic jerk and Ollie needs to get some balls. If I can get balls, so can Ollie!

  9. Takes it like a champ says:

    The worst is the dismissive ” just trust me!” comment my boss yells at me when she doesn’t want to listen to the facts. “No I don’t trust you because you haven’t convinced me any reason why your precious way makes sense and the cold hard facts don’t.” I get disrespected and take it like a champ because it’s a bad economy and I would rather put up with her bullying hormonal flares than be unemployed. The world is tough right now for us Ollie’s. :/

  10. Joel Rohde says:

    It’s Panera for me and two construction consultants who can’t decide if an iPad would suit them better than a $400 Dell laptop. I think I’ve been both Stan and Ollie at times based on my position in the pack at the time…like wolves. It’s really no excuse though I suppose.

  11. Chris says:

    I’m noticing a theme in the comments. 🙂

    I think the situation is a little different when it comes to the employer/employee relationship. That is not strictly a relationship of equals. And if the employer wants to pay you to chase a new direction every other day, that’s up to him.

    Of course, whether you stay is up to you. And the burden of keeping your employer informed is also up to you. But the burden of making him listen is not up to you, thankfully! 🙂

  12. hey-o silver, away says:

    i find that the starbucks employees are flirty if you’re in the drivethrough but do everything they can to ignore you when you’re in the store. weird, huh?

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