Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

How do you feel?

So much of my work is about the conversations we have.  What we say, what we don’t say, interpreting meaning, making sense, puzzling about the underlying messages that are coming through, but that aren’t being said.

I notice “How do you feel?” seems to have been trained in to managers as a way of being more relational.     Ask your people how they feel.

  • Is that what you want to know?
  • Are you really curious about what they are feeling right now, in the moment?
  • Do you really want to explore this with them?

If you aren’t really interested in how someone feels, then they will know that.  The ulterior message, the truth, will communicate itself.

So here’s a scenario.    I ask you how you feel about something, wait for you to tell me and I move on to my next question.    I tick my box, I asked you how you feel.  You said “fine”, “OK,” “whatever”.   What I really am impatient for is to know what targets you have achieved, to pursue my own agenda so I accept your surface answer.  I don’t listen to your tone of voice, I ignore your shift of body, your dip of energy.  How much you have done?

I am uncomfortable to enter into the realms of “how you feel” because if you tell me you are unhappy, vulnerable, confused, uncertain, or – joyful, potent, excited and certain – what do I do with all this?  What feelings does it invite from me, and if I leave my feelings about you, me and we at home, and I get a rush of emotional responses I won’t be certain any more, and I then can’t control you/me.

Don’t ask me how I feel unless you really want to know.

When I am in conversation with people, often helping them think through conversations they want to have,  we explore what it is that they want to know, what it is that they want to say.  Often, they want to say, ask, know, something very different from that which they are asking at a social, surface, level.  Sometimes I too have something different that I want to say, that I am not saying.

There is fear attached to saying what we are really thinking somehow. I make assumptions that you are vulnerable, that asking you directly why you aren’t doing something will hurt you or that I “can’t” say what I really want to.

I’m hearing HR getting the blame too; there is a view that a manager can’t directly ask someone to explain what is getting in the way of achieving deadlines, they can’t tell someone that their petulant attitude is disruptive.  They can’t directly name behaviours.  They have to be “careful”.

Is this an assumption or is it the truth?

  • How do you know?
  • How did we get here where it is so difficult to say what we really mean?
  • Why do we layer up so many assumptions and then create a truth from them?

If you have a difficult conversation that you are avoiding here are some thoughts.  Ask yourself:

What do I know about what this person thinks, feels – not what do I think they know – what do I know?

Check it out with them.

What would I really like to say to them?  Really truthfully.

What assumptions am I making about what will be acceptable to them?

Don’t ask people a question if you are not interested in their answer.

Don’t dress up questions that are leading people to say something so you can say “gotcha”.


Say what you mean, and mean what you say.