Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hear me - What the Baltimore riots, Blakely's "questions" and my job in communications taught me about the importance of being heard

Today I had to cascade an “Action Required” communication. The action was simple. It would take employees maybe 10 minutes.

There was a newsletter article. A separate article for leaders. Talking points to include for the leaders. A digital screen sign. A flyer. A targeted email.

And I know that in two weeks, I’ll be calling people who swear they’ve heard nothing about this and want me to send it all to them again.

Short of setting a memo on fire and throwing it onto their desk, it often feels like we’ve exhausted every option for getting information out to people. You know what the trouble is? All of the noise.

Yesterday Blakely kept yelling, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” over the top of Nate and my conversation, so I turned to her and said, “What, Blakely?”

She paused for a split second and then said emphatically, “I have a question.”
She paused a bit more, and then launched into an explanation of something.

“That’s not a question,” I told her, mid-explanation. She immediately wailed. I sat there for a moment, thinking about how often this is happening lately. For some reason, I was unreasonably irritated that my 2.5 year old, who knows the proper use of “can” and “may,” says that she has questions, even though she knows they’re not questions. As I dug deeper into why she keeps doing this, I thought about when I say “I have a question” to her.

Usually when I say, “I have a question,” I am preparing her to answer. “I have a question” really means, “Listen closely.” Take time… slow down… hear me.

When Blakely says, “I have a question,” she’s really saying, “Please hear me.”

“Riot is the language of the unheard,” Martin Luther King Jr. said.

Whether it’s the riots in Baltimore, my toddler’s tantrums, politics, a teen’s recklessness, so often the plea is simply, “Hear me.” We don't all say 'hear me' well... The desperation to be heard can often drive ugly means of saying 'hear me' - violence, hatred, yelling, crude or cruel "humor"...

But as I clearly understand from my 10 communication vehicles apparently needed to drive home one point, we live in a world of noise. Lots of voices… lots of competing messages… Why? Because when we hear “hear me,” our response as a society is most often “NO, HEAR ME.”

If we are busy… if we don’t like you (or your kind)… if we think you should say ‘hear me’ in another way… If we *think* we’ve already heard your message… We communicate that you are not worth being heard.

I struggle with depression regularly, and I hate sharing about it, even with the person who is closest in the world to me – my husband. Why? Because the fear of saying, “Hear me” and hearing a response of “NO, HEAR ME” is greater than the fear of never attempting to be heard.

Early in our marriage, when I talked through negative emotions I was experiencing, Nate helped by jumping in with alternative perspectives… thoughts to “dismiss” the negativity… fixes… suggestions. But even when he was saying, “I CAN HELP!”… It sounded a lot like, “NO, HEAR ME.”

The last conversation we had about this, I spoke openly. I finished my thoughts. He hugged me tight and said, “I’m so sorry. Please let me know if I can help.” It sounded a lot like, “I hear you.”

We, as a society, don’t hear each other enough. When someone says, “It’s a struggle to be a young black man in this community,” and the response is “Do you understand the risks and sacrifices police officers make?” (Feel free to switch the order)… We’ve missed an opportunity to hear. We expect to be heard, without expecting to listen.

I have often struggled with this even in my prayer life. How many times have I been yelling “NO, HEAR ME” over what God was really trying to speak into my life?

Don’t get me wrong – you have a valuable message. But so does the person that you’re yelling over.
I used to post a lot of stuff on social media that frankly, I shouldn’t have. Now when I scroll through Facebook and see political rants, propaganda, “Christian truth” that looks a lot like hate, I cringe. Because this is what I know it says:

How can we, as a society, especially if you a Christian… turn our current practices on their head? Can we say, “I hear you.” Perhaps even, “Tell me more.”

At the end of the day, maybe nothing will be solved. You’ll still think the answer is A, and I’ll still think the answer is B. But I have a Blakely-style “question” for you…

“Maybe that doesn’t matter, because we’ll all be at peace that we’ve been heard.” ;-)