During my board service, I didn’t reflect much on how exceptionally difficult communication is, particularly when everything seems on the line. Communication is especially tough when emotions run high. The meaning often gets obscured by the heavy feelings that blanket it. Requests can come off as demands. Priorities get buried. The language used, often unintentionally, is divisive.
It is difficult for board members not to feel defensive the moment they detect the heat of emotion. Other participants sense the defensiveness, so the cycle begins leaving both sides feeling frustrated, angry, unheard, disrespected, or unsatisfied.
In this particular meeting, I was an uninvolved observer. The decisions would have no impact on me, making it much easier to spot the intent behind every person’s comments, no matter which side they were on. Wouldn’t it be great if a genuinely objective observer could attend every board meeting and act as an English-to-English translator? The next best thing would be for all of us to continue to grow the skill of parsing through other communicators’ emotions to seek their real meaning.