Let's talk to each other not about each other

We spend so much time talking about each other instead of talking to each other! I read this somewhere recently and it got me thinking of all the times I have bitched about others or listened to others bitch about someone else without calling them out on it! I’ll say we spend so much time talking about each other there is little or no time to talk to each other. We talk around each other and expect that there will be some changes in the other's behaviour!

Assuming that when we talk about others behind their backs it is usually to criticise or say something negative about them, why is it so easy or easier to do so with others instead of speaking directly to the one concerned? Why do we find it easier to complain about each other’s behaviour and actions to others except to the person(s) actually involved in the action? I believe we would solve a lot more problems, and create better relationships if we could cultivate the habit of confronting one another with our perceived unacceptable behaviour and actions. If we learned to speak to the person(s) concerned about issues that concern them, we will be able to resolve the issue(s) there and then. Well, assuming that, there will be no sparks, accusations and counter accusations flying all over the place! At least the other person will be aware of what they are supposedly doing that annoys the other and will get the chance to give his/her own side of the story while the complainant will be able express his/her grievance directly to the accused.

Open and honest conversation is also quite therapeutic if we face it with an open mind. I find that my feelings towards the other person changes only temporarily when I don’t speak directly to them about an issue that involves them. If I am angry or unhappy with someone and speak to some other person about my discontent, I end up feeling guilty for talking behind their back and at the same time hope that they don’t get to know about it. At the same time I’ll be hoping that they change their behaviour towards me! But how is that going to happen when they are not even aware that I have a problem with them.

At work, colleagues sometimes expect new-comers to do their jobs perfectly yet would not directly tell them when they go wrong or fail to pick up the culture of the organisation straight away.

Yes, we don’t really expect that a person changes their ways of thinking and behaving by talking behind their back do we? Maybe we do! At least if we are honest, we expect the other person we are talking to about some other person to agree with and confirm our view of the other and possibly contribute some other evidence that corroborates our perception.

On the one hand, we are afraid to hurt the other person by telling them the truth as we see it. We are also scared of a full blown confrontation. So we decide to gauge the views of others neutral to the situation. If they agree with us that the person we are talking about is exactly the way we perceive them to be, we are happy and feel good about ourselves. That also convinces us that we were right all along and reinforces our belief that there is something wrong with the other person and they need to change.

On the other hand, assuming that we can make others change for us, the person being talked about cannot change if they do not even know what we are thinking and saying about them. Secondly, the people we are talking to will also be influenced in their perception of the one being discussed. It is quite difficult to listen to all the stories, good or bad, about someone and remain neutral in our behaviour towards them. One way or another our interaction with them will be influenced by what we have heard. We will end up using the frame of reference of others in our interactions with the person spoken about thereby ultimately limiting our experience to theirs.

Talking about each other is quite common in work situations where relationships are not so intimate. In the hope that their views would be accepted as the best option to take, managers and colleagues constantly talk past each other without listening to or allowing the other person to express their own thoughts and feelings.

It will be refreshing, if we could all make an effort to have a conversation with each other; a conversation where both parties are fully contributing to the discussion. A conversation where we allow each other to express their thoughts and feelings. This is the best way we can show respect for each other; the only way we can accept that we are different and therefore can think and feel differently about stuff.

Most of all, let's talk TO each other instead of ABOUT each other!