Yesterday Lucy wasn’t feeling well so I deliberately left for class a little later than I normally would. I like to get to school about an hour before class starts, this has been my routine every semester. I don’t feel rushed, if I get stuck in traffic it is not a concern, it gives me time to meditate and become centered before class. I also like that I have time on campus before class starts to review my reading. I like to go back through and review the main points of the chapter so I am prepared for the lecture.
So last night I arrived at school about 20 minutes early, enough time to sit and read before class. This worked out well as I had not completely finished one of the chapters during our busy weekend. I wasn’t too concerned as the chapter covers material I am already pretty familiar with but since I had the time I was going to go through and highlight key points.
I got up to the area where I normally sit and read only to find a chatty Cathy (or chatty Charles in this case) from class pacing around. He was trying to talk to a classmate who was on her phone. Crap. I know I am not going to get any reading done. He greeted me with an excited Hello! which I responded politely to and then sat down and pulled out my book and highlighter.
Here is the irony of the situation, last week towards the end of class we started to cover some of the subtleties of the interviewing process. The professor talked about the importance of nonverbal communication and cues. She talked about not only being cognizant of what your body language and expressions are saying but being able to pick up on the nonverbal cues others are sending out. An example from the text talked about a girl who was running late for class and needed to check in with her academic advisor quickly on her way to class. It explained how the advisor did not pick up on any of the girl’s nonverbal cues when the girl was clearly trying to break from the conversation in order to rush off to class.
I say “clearly” but for some people nonverbal communication is difficult and not as clear. The other point the professor touched on briefly is the importance of allowing for silences. I get this. You do not need to explain this to me. For some people though any silence between two people is considered an awkward silence.
So fast forward back to last night, 2o minutes before class, here is Chatty Charles’ perfect opportunity to practice some of these things we discussed in class last week. If I were grading him I am sad to say he would have gotten an F. The other girl and I were sending out plenty of nonverbal cues that he was OBLIVIOUS to.
He tried to engage her, she made a phone call. Clearly she was trying to put up a wall between the two of them, he just kept talking to her. She never once engaged or responded, she completely ignored him, he kept talking. Then I arrive, am polite but short with my greeting and immediately sit down and pull out my book and highlighter and begin reading. Huge cues here, he missed it completely. He was going to talk whether anyone was listening or not because he could not handle being in the presence of other people and being quiet. I did not want to be rude so I occasionally would acknowledge what he was saying but I did not at any point encourage or engage him. I think this made him feel even more uncomfortable even possibly rejected because the longer I sat there trying to read and not engage the harder he tried to engage me to the point, in my opinion, of inappropriateness. He was over-sharing and then even went as far to ask for my phone number (for school purposes). It would have been different if he and I were talking about a school assignment etc and the conversation naturally led to us exchanging phone numbers in case either of us had questions later. But in this case there was no ground work that led up to the request. He went from talking about his job to Hey we should exchange numbers in case you or your brother ever need me to print anything for you for class. I had said nothing to make him think that my brother and I were incapable of printing our own materials. I then realized the extent of his discomfort with the situation. He was grasping at straws trying to figure out how to engage me, I think he was taking it very personal that I was not taking part in his (scattered and quite meaningless) conversation. At no point did he stop and look at the situation to realize, This isn’t about me, this girl is just trying to study and she can’t do that while I am talking to her. Instead he internalized what he perceived as my icy behavior and thought I was in some way rejecting him so he did anything he could to appear more friendly in attempt to get my attention..
I could be wrong about some of this but it is how I read the situation and I am pretty sure my intuition is right on.
Right after he asked to exchange phone numbers my phone rang which saved me from having to respond. It was my brother so I went and met him outside to excuse myself from the situation.
The irony continued into class. We spent more time discussing nonverbal behavior and why it is important to allow for silences with a client, sometimes people need a moment to process what is going on or the topic. The professor then put on a video for us to watch, it was a counseling session between a clinician and a client. I found it very helpful, listening to the way the clinician worded his questions, his way of seeking clarification how he chose to use close ended questions so that they still allowed for reflection from the client, it was very interesting. What is even more interesting (here comes the irony) is that at one point in the video the clinician asked a direct open-ended question that clearly had an impact on the client. The client was silent for at least 30 seconds if not longer to reflect on the question and in answering it you can tell his tone changed.
There were 3 people in the class that raised there hands or called out to the professor during this 30 second silent period to make her aware that the video paused. Even after everything we talked about in regards to deliberate silences they still didn’t get it. They had no clue that the silence was apart of the video, they thought the CD was skipping. I think that is very telling. I also think that should have served as an A-Ha moment for some people.
You have to be self-aware. Not everything is about you, you have to be thinking about the other person. Silence might make you feel uncomfortable but think about where it is coming from and is it something that maybe the other person needs either because they are reflecting on the conversation or because they are trying to study..
The subject matter of this week’s class was interesting, as was what I observed in some of my classmates. We all have areas we need to work on, it is interesting to watch each other come to our own realizations about these areas that maybe need some work.