Recently I had a conversation with a friend. He asked me what I thought about a marketing piece he sent me the day before. After our conversation,which was tedious, we analyzed it. Here is part of the conversation we had, and the same part of the one we didn’t have:
Sam: What did you think of that piece I sent you yesterday?
Subtext: I’m looking for your big picture thoughts
Me: I liked it
Subtext: Uh. Oh. He wanted me to give him comments.
Sam: Well – what did you like about it?
Subtext: Please give me a little more – your big picture comments.
Me: I didn’t read it that carefully – I did think it looked good
Subtext: I feel really badly. He looked at something for me and gave me exactly what I asked for. I should have done more.
Me: [getting defensive] – I didn’t realize you wanted me to provide comments – I can do that. Isn’t it out already?
Subtext: I really would like to fix this – and I still feel badly – maybe he’ll give me another opportunity to make it right.
Sam: Yeah – it’s out already. Never mind.
Subtext: All I wanted was a couple of thoughts, and he’s trying to make a whole project out of it.
After another couple of minutes of this conversation that went nowhere, we stepped back and I asked what he really was asking. I asked him for the subtext. And I told him mine.
We quickly reached an understanding, and avoided further misunderstanding. He didn’t care that I hadn’t really read it. He just wanted a little more of the big picture comments.
I had felt badly that I hadn’t read it and given him deeper comments, and he didn’t even want them.
How much easier it would be if all our conversations were the subtext, rather than the text. If we were simply transparent and said what
we really meant.
When I do role plays in workshops I facilitate, I often will stop the action and ask: "What do you really want to say?" That gets to the subtext.
Instead of texting each other, maybe we should start subtexting.