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Behavior Description – Communication Skills

In communication, the “interpersonal gap” arises from differing interpretations of behavior. John Wallen emphasizes the importance of clean and non-judgmental behavior descriptions to bridge this gap. When someone’s actions trigger a reaction, one should examine the specific, observable actions without making assumptions or evaluations. Instead, be curious and initiate a mutual inquiry. By focusing on pure behavior descriptions, you can understand the other person’s perspective and improve communication, fostering understanding and reducing misunderstandings. This approach aims to achieve clarity in communication and promote better relationships.


Behavior description. So another segment from the John Wallen communication skills sequence. There is what he called an interpersonal gap. And here’s where it comes from. While points out, here’s a person over here and there’s a person over there. So we have now two people. So we have an interpersonal situation. This person over here has an intention. They have something that they want to get across or communicate or, or have happened, perhaps in the other person or to the other person. They then encode, they turn this into some kind of personal message or behavior that is in the form of some action that goes out into the world. They say something, they do something. They have certain tone of voice or gestures or something like that. And the other person over here sees that action. They don’t see the bubble, they see the action. And when that happens, they decode it based on their history and the way they were taught to decode things. And that ends up having some kind of effect or impact on them, some interpretation. Now what what what Walden points out is that the result is an interpersonal gap, because the encoding and the decoding are never they can’t possibly be 100% the same all the time. I don’t care how well you know somebody, how long you’ve worked together or lived together, you’re it’s just virtually impossible that to, to to to decode something in exactly the way the person was trying to encode it. It’s just simply theoretically not possible. So the result is you have a person over here that’s encoding.

They do something person over here decodes it has an impact. The result is what John Walton called the interpersonal gap. There is something different. There’s a gap between what this person intended and what the other person received, or the impact or the effect that it had on another person. Now it all goes back to the action. Or John Walton called it behavior. This is a broad category, the behavior of someone, they might just be sitting there, so maybe they didn’t do anything. So if you call it behavior, it’s wide enough to include anything that someone might say or do. So it all begins with some kind of behavior out there in the world where it can be seen. So when you’re having trouble with someone, or you want to clear something up, you start with with with looking at what was the trigger like, let’s say the other person did something that made your needle jump, usually made you unhappy or disappointed or frustrated or irritated or something like that. What was the trigger? What is it that actually happened that made your needle jump, that had your needle jump as a result? And it’s something that you could see on a video. You have to start with a clean description of the behavior, what happened that affected you. If you’re going to be working on it with somebody, what actually happened that affected you? You don’t start with your interpretation, but you have to peel back from that as you’ll see and see if you can go back to the behavior itself.

Now, what happened here is that in order to do that, the behavior description, Walton says, has to pass two tests. It has to report only specific observable actions. What you would see, like if you had a video camera running, what would you see on the video? Not anything else, but what actually the person said and what they did. Clean no spin. And secondly, it has to be non-evaluative or non-judgmental. You can’t make the person wrong or blame them for anything. It has to begin with a very clean, pure behavior description. For instance, there’s a video camera. You need to describe specific observable actions, just as if you were talking about what was seen on a video camera without any inferences, guesses or assumptions, or any kind of generalizations about the person. Now, this is extremely, extremely difficult to do. Here’s an example. Let’s say that Peter, here’s a behavior description. This is what you’d see on a video. Peter walked out of the meeting ten minutes before the meeting was finished. That’s what you’d see on a video. Now what? What might be the impact or the interpretations or the effect it might have on other people? This is what some people might make up about it. Somebody might say, well, Peter was ticked off. Maybe somebody else sitting right next to them might say, well, Peter was called away by his boss. Or maybe they make a generalization, and they say, you know, Peter never, ever sees things through. He’s just always leaving. He always and only wants to do what he thinks is important.

Now, can you see how the behavior description is clean? It doesn’t have any of this personal garbage on it. This is actually telling us more about the person who is experiencing the behavior than it is about the person who did the behavior. That was Walden’s point. These are projections of people’s interpretations onto the other person. Now the behavior description also needs to be non non-evaluative, non-judgmental non-accusatory. This is the in America. This is the statue for justice. And she’s holding up a scale that you know, good or bad, right or wrong. And she’s blindfolded. The theory is that justice doesn’t care about how famous you are or how rich you are, that the justice is meted out to everyone the same. Maybe not always the case, but you can’t blame or make the other person wrong. For instance, let’s take this one. Marek talked more than others on this topic and twice interrupted others. That’s what you’d see on a video. In this particular period of time, Marek talked more than other people, and he interrupted two people twice. And you have to be careful how you say it, interrupted. He interrupted two people twice. That’s what you’d see on a video. No blame. Nobody’s wrong. That’s just what. That’s just what Marek did. Now let’s look and see how we can mess it up. We could have evaluations. We could have judgments and accusations about Marek. For instance. Marek was rude, okay? Or Marek wants to become a dictator.

Or Marek should take a course on respect and anger management. Or I wonder where he learned to be so arrogant. You see, the these are all evaluations of Marek. They are really not descriptions of the behavior. They are. They’re judgments about Marek as a person. This will not get you anywhere when you’re trying to close the interpersonal gap. Walton says. A person’s here, another person there, they have an intention. They encode. The person over here sees what’s happening. They decode it. It has an effect. Here’s what you have to do to bridge the interpersonal gap. The first thing is you have to stop your decoder. You have to say, wait a second. Right now, I’m thinking that Jim was rude. For instance, you catch yourself making it, making the judgment. Oh, wow. Yeah. Right now, I’m saying that Jim was rude. Okay. And then you stop that interpretation, you go, whoa, wait a minute. Maybe there’s another explanation. You open yourself to another interpretation or another explanation for why Jim did this particular thing. And what that means is you learn to catch yourself not seeing what’s there, and pretty much all the time. And when you do that, you ask yourself, what did I actually see and hear? What did Jim or Peter or Mary or Marek or Agnieszka or whoever it was, what actually happened if I subtract all of my judgments and all of my irritation and all my other stuff and just report what happens, what would I be describing? That’s the behavior description.

I like to use the example in the LDI, our seminar, what if you live with someone who leaves stuff around the house? Okay, what does that mean? It’s a trick question. What it means is they live. They leave stuff around the house. That’s that’s all it means. Everything after that is interpretation, okay? Even leaving stuff around the house has an element of judgment in it. Okay, so here, here are the scales. Here’s what you have to do. First, when you catch yourself in a situation where you’re irritated about the other person, the first thing is got curious. Start wondering about, I wonder what would be going on. I wonder what would have him get up and leave the meeting. I think it’s happened the last 2 or 3 meetings. I wonder what that’s all about. And then you begin a mutual inquiry. You start asking questions with the other person. So, you know, the other day when you left the meeting about ten minutes early, I think that’s happened a couple of times. Help me understand what’s going on. No judgment, no blame, no make wrong. It’s like, you know what’s happening over there, as we say in the LDI, over there in your world. And the finally, then you use these skills at that point to do what’s next. And these are all these are all videos in the series here at Perception check behavior description describing your emotions at that moment or how to listen so that you build trust. This is how you begin to bridge the interpersonal gap.


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