Keep Talking, I’m Listening – NOT

images by Ed Yourdon via Flickr
image by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

Something from time to time catches my eyes (or ears) that just does not sit right. It could be the no so subtle comment about you or your team, it could be the back of the hand compliment, or maybe the way folks act. They are all around, microinequities. You have to first define it – and straight from wikipedia.  Microinequity refers to the subtle gestures, attention and body language that occurs when we communicate. In many ways it is often positive but it can also be very negative, for instance, when our body language, tone and inflection say one thing but we are actually saying something else.  Just another form of communication, that could have some real bad side effects.

I think that everyone can give some very good examples of microinequities – I want to share a few of my favorites…

  • Sitting in a discussion with a senior level manager. We were actually face to face – which made this action just a wonder to me. The discussion was a review of what was one of our top priorities that we both shared a common interest in. Me – I wanted to get the product to his team. He wanted his team to communicate better and felt that this would help. While we were in the middle – he just got out his Blackberry and started viewing his email. Told me to keep talking that he was listening. At first, I did as I was told. Kept talking, of course the wise ass that I am – I switched topic to something about hockey and how the Phoenix Coyotes were doing and their upcoming schedule. He heard that the upcoming Friday was a big day and said – great my team can start Friday. First thing that popped into my head was – okay – you want your team to communicate better. Hum, how about you start to communicate better? There is no tool or capability out there today that is going to help a person that does not communicate well – to communicate better. If there is – please let me know ASAP – I have a few other managers (friends, peers and senior leaders) that can use it!
  • My other one probably happens to many folks. My name is really easy to remember (well, at least to me it is) – Steve Bell. The senior leader of the organization – never got that name right. I would present time and time again to the senior staff, email back and forth and we had skip level discussions. My email name or better yet the name my parents gave me – is Stephen. I make correction after correction – when someone calls me Stephen. I am polite – please call me  Steve. Month after month, I am Stephen. No need making any corrections.
  • Lastly, my favorite of all times goes out to those folks that are on an audio conference. The ones that when they are asked a question, nothing but silence. Then folks go, are you on mute? They come back with, yes I was on mute. “Can you repeat the question?” – well, the last time I checked the mute means we can not hear you – not that you can not hear us. Too busy to pay attention, I guess. Are we not as important as you? Funny – yes – especially when they are reminded the mute button should not effect their ears.

Are microinequities just another one of those buzz attempts at trying to label something? Do they hurt or effect folks? I have taken a class at work on how to deal with them. Recognize them, confront in private when necessary and insure that I am not having them happen when I communicate. Day after day, microinequities are happening.

Any examples that you want to share?

Any thoughts on how to stop them? Or should they stop? Some are good tension breakers.

Let’s digitally discuss….. Bottom line – leaders need to be aware of their communications.