Whenever I’m stuck in a communication that just isn’t working I eventually get back to a favorite expression: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I have often found that if I can’t make myself understood, there’s a good chance I’m doing something to contradict myself. Contradictions create a level of confusion that help the message get lost.
Lots of things can help parents to create a mixed message… they often result from habit or behaviors we’ve just never thought about. It can be something as simple as smiling when we’re angry: when body language doesn’t match the message listeners are left with a choice about which part of the message is real.
A classic example is the parent who lectures about “the evils of drug use” with a drink in hand. Or someone like me who knows the importance of exercise… but doesn’t always “walk the talk.”
I’m not saying that drinking is wrong…. or that parents who drink should not talk to their kids about responsible substance use. Or even that people who don’t exercise enough are not allowed to encourage others to be more active.
What I AM saying is that a little more attention to timing, context and example adds up to a powerful, irrefutable message.
There are so many situations in life where this little reminder comes in handy. I remember once hearing a wonderful speaker saying how much he disliked those bumper stickers that say “I’d Rather Be…” (sailing, golfing… you know the ones…).
I don’t care much about bumper stickers but his reasoning caught my attention. He said they were dishonest… that if people honestly preferred that activity they would make the necessary sacrifices and changes. It’s something I try to remember when I start to say I am “too busy” for people or activities that matter to me. I think of it when people tell me they “want to write a book but don’t have time.”
And kids have an incredible gift for noticing the mis-matches between what we say and what we do. And, like in any other situation, we can make excuses — or use their insights to become better. To put our feet where are priorities are.
I am always moved by this video that illustrates the power of our example.