My fiance has a turtle pond in her back yard. The previous owners of her house installed an elaborate water feature, and a rock lined reservoir of about 500 gallons. All winter there was no sign of life. The water was dark due to algae blooms. We took bets if there were turtles in there and I was assured that they might be hibernating but there were DEFINITELY turtles living in the pond.

In mid-January, she called in her “pond guy” for the annual cleaning and maintenance check. We would finally get to the bottom of the mystery. He came and began to drain the pond and had a separate container ready to hold whatever animals he might find.

Sure enough, there were two male turtles in the pond, and I lost the bet. Over the past several months, we’ve been restoring the pond to its natural glory and landscaping the area around it to better the aesthetics for the turtles and us. We’ve watched the brilliant Planet Earth 2 Series, and it may have inspired us (more specifically me) to take a bigger interest in the animals in the back yard. So I started reading and researching – everything I could learn about Red-eared Slider turtles and their normal habitat. I built an area so they could sun themselves, we bought algae blockers and clarifier to keep the water clear, we purchased another turtle (she was affectionately named Princess Unicorn by the kids) – it was a wild transformation, and it’s been super fun to do as a small ecosystem.

Turtles are cautious, and while Aesop may have used them as an example of how to plan/work, they only have two states. Head out and checking out things and all balled up at possible danger. Enjoying life or fearing it, happy or sad, swimming around or retreating. That’s it – two modes.

If you watch the news for more than 10 minutes, there also seems to be two modes.

Our side is winning, and the sky is falling.

How could this be?

We’re incredibly complex beings, and yet all things come down to two sides. Even as we listen, we see a D or R next to their names, and we already start assuming. I think the worst part is if someone disagrees with a statement, person or party there is an assumption immediately made, and it’s that this person must be in the other camp.

This scenario is dangerous. It’s dangerous because we’ve stopped listening. Listening is probably about 60% of actual communication. It’s more than half because as communicators it’s up to us to get our message across and the only way to do that is to take our time and understand where our audience is, how they feel, what is their position on an issue. Remember: if a campaign doesn’t connect, whose fault is it? I think it would be the storyteller.

By listening and assuming we understand a person/party/generation, we’re going to miss the mark. Is it any wonder that the sheer amount of communication gaffs are increasing? (Thanks, Pepsi!)

It’s an unfortunate irony that as a culture we can communicate with anyone at any time but have lost the plot on our way to connection.

Let’s get back to fundamentals, Stephen Covey style.

Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating.

Stephen Covey

So if we’re just waiting to respond in most cases, it’s no wonder we’re asserting and assuming. It’s no wonder we’re filling in the blanks. “Oh, you’re not a Democrat, must be a Republican.”

“Oh, you’re not a Democrat, you must be a Republican.”

“You’re protesting Donald Trump; you must be a snowflake.”

“You don’t know the land speed of an unladen swallow, you must’ve never seen The Holy Grail.” (This one is actually true)

So how do we fix this?

  1. Be prepared for a spectrum of possible answers on the subject.
  2. Disrupt through thoughtful communication. It’s like throwing an offspeed pitch.
  3. Err on the side of personal vs. party line. Person to person wins.
  4. To be personal means you have to be honest and humble.

We live in a complex world and to limit people to two options is incredibly short sited. Don’t make this easy mistake.

What else would you add to this list?

Remember your audience is more complex than a turtle.