Whether you are in a relaxed conversation, a formal discussion, business meeting or heated debate, oftentimes 'what is said' (verbalised) is just the tip of the iceberg. There is usually an enormous amount of material that 'goes unsaid', like the lower 2/3 of the iceberg that is below the surface the water. Taking the iceberg analogy further, crews that man ships at sea know there is significant weight and volume under the tip of exposed ice. They also know that successful navigation involves sighting the ice above the surface of the water (1/3 of the total ice volume) and then taking into account the actual, full dimensions of the iceberg. When we communicate with other people, it can be helpful to understand that some critical messages 'go unsaid'.
The reasons why things 'go unsaid' are so numerous that it would be virtually impossible to write them all down. However, one common reason is that we tend to censor ourselves -- sometimes with awareness & calculation and sometimes without awareness (we might not even know we self-censor). We might feel like we cannot/should not say something or that what we say will evoke an undesirable response or outcome. For example: "I better not say that or they'll think poorly of me" or "that is not appropriate to say here" or "no one is going to care about that".
Another reason is that we make assumptions about what is commonly understood and/or valued amongst people and what is not. "Team-playing" is a great example of a phrase that is tossed-around in conversations with an assumption that it means the same thing to all people - when it actually looks, feels and manifests differently depending on circumstances. "Trust", "conflict" and "loyalty" are a few more words that we think mean the same thing to everyone - however, lo and behold, they do not represent the exact same meaning to all people.
Lastly, we tend to think that our reactions, especially as they are emotionally based, are not important or relevant in communication. How often do we feel irritated or annoyed and then find ourselves communicating in short sentences with sharper tones to someone? If you ask your colleague for an overdue report or your partner to help you do a chore when you are feeling frustrated/irritated/annoyed/angry then they may feel confused about what is going on for you. We may end up evoking a similar 'unsaid' reaction in the other person. "Why is she angry with me?" or "Gosh, he's so rude!"
Some of the most critical information in communication is in the 'unsaid' part of the message. It can be a worthwhile endeavour to learn to be explicit, to declare our reactions in mindful ways and to foster a safe space for clarification and deeper discussion of matters. Like the iceberg analogy, perhaps what 'is said' is only 1/3 of the whole message, sometimes. Without knowing about the other 2/3 of the message, we can end up steering ourselves into various interpersonal shipwrecks. In recognising that people have tendencies to self-censor, make assumptions and ignore their own personal reactions we can explore different ways to harvest these hidden messages. The rewards include more satisfying contact - feeling understood and understanding others - at home, with family and friends, at the shops or in the workplace.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.