Talking terms!

I like to talk! With close friends I can talk and talk and exhaust them! In a social environment I can be engaging, even with strangers! But, in some social environments where I am a minority, I used to be guarded and wary (I’m not now!) because I had encountered negative interactions with the majority members.

They were either overtly friendly or excluding or overbearing or condescending and patronising — always telling me what and how to do, like I don’t know! They don’t know me but want to be familiar with me; some — who don’t know me — will even go so far as to put their arms around like I was their buddy when I am not! All this is off-putting. It bothered me that they treated me differently when they didn’t treat their own in the same way. I indicated I didn’t like it but it failed to elicit a change in behaviour. I naturally withdrew, regarding them as ignorant, rude and disrespectful people who didn’t know how to relate cross-culturally — even though we are all Malaysians and should know it!

This, of course, contributed to my sense of alienation in such environments. I instinctively kept them at arms length, not realising that in doing so I was actually rejecting them. They picked up the negative vibes, and, naturally, soon kept their distance, too, dismissing me as unfriendly, snooty, difficult, etc, etc, etc! Well, quite evidently such reactions on both sides did nothing to engender healthy relations between us. It had a spillover effect when I began to have staff of different races under me.

Since it was affecting work performance, I gave it serious thought. Thinking and closely observing the people around me, one day, it suddenly dawned on me that I had got it all wrong! They were not “rude, disrespectful people”. They were just insecure. I was not someone from their group, I was of a different gender, a different race and — in some situations — a different religion. I was an unfamiliar variable on the scene, and unable to read me correctly, they didn’t know if I had their backs. Their “odd” behaviours were merely compensating for their insecurity.

I realised then what a grave mistake I had made! I judged them on assumptions. I assumed they didn’t like me and made a decision to withdraw into myself, which, in fact, was rejecting them. They responded likewise and kept their distance which I interpreted as rejecting me. See what a convoluted emotional mess it was? To make matters worse, because I felt rejected, I went around like a wounded animal, licking my wounds and whining about how they rejected me when it wasn’t true. They didn’t reject me; I assumed it and erroneously acted on an assumption! The result was an absurd and needless comedy of errors!

Once I figured it out, I set out to change things. When I became editor, I made it a point to go out with my staff for lunch or tea or dinner to build good relationships with them. I would spend a few minutes each morning talking with them before I got down to work. By relating with them — and not withdrawing into myself — they began to feel secure with me. And, all those previous problems I had with being a minority in a majority group simply disappeared! I began to relate well with them and it wasn’t an issue any more!

I have another example. I don’t look my age. People treat me according to the age they think I am. But, when I treat them as I am — as a mature person — they can’t take it because they don’t expect it from someone “young”. I have contrary opinions and they see it as as me being “difficult”. The not so smart will even regard it as me “fighting with them”! They have based their moral judgments of me based on assumptions which are grossly inaccurate! The word gets around and stupid people believe them!

If they had just talked with me they would know the truth. Even if I don’t reveal my age they would know where I am coming from and act accordingly. Besides, I am not an aegist who discriminates because of age. If people think they can talk down to you, and dismiss you as a young upstart or a troublesome young person because of your age, I think they are just plain bullies. I don’t have much respect for them.

The point is, talk! Talking is relating. If you don’t talk you can’t start a relationship. And, when you start a relationship you need to talk to keep it going. Stop talking and that’s the end of the relationship! We can’t help making assumptions, especially of people who are different from us; they are like the first impressions we make to assess the situation or person. But, it is only when we talk and get to know the person that we realise that some of those assumptions are not true. By talking, we get to the facts, and, on facts, we make better decisions.

Talking is also confidence-building! There are always scary people around who we want to avoid. When you have someone like that on your team, you have no choice! If I left them alone, they would have the upper hand. I had to take charge. I summoned all the courage I had and started eyeballing them! I would quietly go up to them and, making eye contact, would ask about this and that. If they give a rude retort, I would directly ask them: “What’s your problem? I’m just asking you.” They always back down. They remain the troublesome people they are but I became more confident in handling the “scary ones”!

Talking helps you get real. It takes you to the real issues. However, for talking to be real, we need to be honest — with ourselves and the people we want to relate with. It means we should be prepared to be transparent. If we don’t, we hide behind doublespeak — contrived cliches we pour out for public consumption. Real talking is always truthful, never assumed.

Scripture is always proven right: Talk — speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4: 15). It heals.

 

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