"What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
We communicate in many different ways. At one time we communicated verbally and in writing through letters and books. With our current state of technological advancement, however, we can now communicate instantly through electronic communication. I can chat with friends in Italy or Oregon at the same moment I email someone in my home town, talk on the phone with family in another state, and gesture to a family member in the same room. I can video chat, send instant photos, and electronically share documents with anyone anywhere in the world at any hour.
Despite this "advance" in communication ability, we humans still communicate basically and most powerfully in two ways: verbally and behaviorally. We may have many different methods of transmitting our communication, but we can still boil down the enterprise into two basic forms of communication. The problem is that we tend to forget the power of the behavioral communication; we forget the hidden messages we send to others through our actions and instead focus on the verbal communication.
As the Emerson quote above suggests, everything we do communicates more powerfully than anything we say, whether we say it verbally or in writing. Our behavior shows people who we are. We run into communication difficulties when we forget this basic premise. Let me give you seven behavior scenarios and what I think the hidden messages are for each one. Please let me reassure you that these examples do not come from any of my current studio parents; I have compiled them from stories that I have heard or read from other studio teachers or websites or situations from the past.
Behavior: The parent brings the student to the lesson late or frequently misses group class.
Hidden Message: The student's activities are not important enough for the parent to arrange to be punctual or even participate.
Behavior: The parent forgets to bring the student to the lesson or group class. (Yes, this does happen!)
Hidden Message: The student's activity (and possibly the student) is not a high enough priority to the parent in order for the parent to make the effort to remember the lesson or group class time.
Behavior: The parent forgets to bring the student's instrument or lesson materials.
Hidden Message: Again, the student's activity is not on the parent's radar enough for the parent to remember. After all, if the parent were really interested and engaged in what the student was learning and accomplishing, wouldn't the parent remember to bring the violin or the lesson book?
Behavior: The parent does not complete the teacher's practice assignment or else the parent practices something else entirely than that assigned by the teacher.
Hidden Message: It is not important to do the homework assigned by the teacher. Another message might be that it is okay not to obey authority figures (this would translate to include future teachers and employers), or that it is alright to ignore rules and assignments and make special exceptions. Be careful about this message! Unless a parent just does not understand the homework assignment and is unable to contact the teacher to obtain clarity, then this is the message that the student learns. This is the parent who later laments that the child will not do homework. Hm, where did the child learn that it was alright not to do assigned homework?
Behavior: The parent argues with the teacher about what needs to be accomplished in the lesson.
Hidden Message: The teacher is not worthy of respect, and it is okay to argue or question authority figures. Ooh, does the parent really want to go there? This is just a step removed from the parent's permission to the child to disrespect and question the parent's authority. I do not recommend that the parent go to the dark side here.
Behavior: The parent cancels lessons frequently because of schedule conflicts, either for another child or for some other reason.
Hidden Message: The student's activity ranks lower in priority than the other child's schedule or the other activity.
Behavior: The parent complains during the lesson that the child fights the parent's help and will not practice. Or, the parent complains about something the child does, such as nail biting or some other "misbehavior."
Hidden Message: The parent is trying to embarrass the student, even if the student is really young! The parent is taking the easy way out: rather than working to figure out a solution to the problem, the parent is looking elsewhere for a quick fix. This equates to the message that the parent does not consider the child or the parent's relationship with the child to be important enough to find a workable solution or identify the root cause of the problem. What I think is really sad about this scenario is that the parent is eroding the relationship with the child. When the parent talks about the child in the child's presence in this manner, the parent is sending the hidden message that:
- The child is invisible (i.e., not important enough for the parent to engage or involve in the discussion).
- The parent has more power than the child. This attitude and behavior may work until the child reaches the teen years. It will never work with a strong-willed choleric child, who will definitely lose respect for the parent immediately.
As you can see, there are many "hidden" messages. Every behavior has a message, and most of our behaviors have hidden messages that may surprise us once we reflect upon them. It is important that we take the time to consider our behavior (the things we do) and the message that we consequently convey (the things we think). It is not easy to climb inside our own heads and expose the root of our thinking, but if we are going to establish a good relationship with our children and students, we must do just that. We must figure out what we are really thinking and analyze our behavior to see what message we are in actuality conveying to our children and to the world around us.
This week, and today especially, stand back and look objectively at everything you do. Consider your behavior and the "hidden" messages you send to others around you. If you do not like some of the things you discover, make a list of those particular behaviors and some things that you can do instead to convey a different message. For every message there is an opposite message possibility.
Your assignment this week is to consider how to convey the opposite message. If you are showing arrogance, then consider how you might convey humility. If you lean toward indifference, think of ways to show interest and concern. If you have cultivated the ability to be irresponsible in scheduling and prioritizing, then enlist the help of someone or some tool to assist you to organize your thoughts and activities.