Doctor Neha: Hi everybody. Today, we have a special guest. Her name is Ari, and she is a teen who is willing to ask her communication questions so that all of you can learn. Thanks for being so brave and awesome, Ari.
Ari: Thank you.
Doctor Neha: What’s on your mind? I want you to speak up and kind of be bold. What’s the communication question you have?
Ari: Something I struggle with a lot, and a lot of people I know, struggle with trying to get their point across because a lot of people worry about their reputation. They don’t want to say something they might regret and be judged for it.
Doctor Neha: So what do you do when you’re filtering yourself so that other people won’t talk about you behind your back. Is it like that?
Doctor Neha: So what would be an example that somebody would be worried about?
Ari: I would say an example would be when someone talks about like their personal life or something specific about themselves and then someone else says, “Oh, that’s weird” and starts talking about them and how weird that person is.
Doctor Neha: What might they say about their personal life? I’m going to give you an example that will relate to a specific example. So what have you ever heard somebody talk about that then they were judged for it?
Ari: There was this one girl who would go home to hang out with her stepbrother. She always posted videos of the two of them because they’re like really close. But his legs or arms were always on her leg so everyone talked about weird they thought that was.
Doctor Neha: Because they think what? That her brother is too affectionate and touchy with her?
Ari: That they’re too touchy and something weird is happening there.
Doctor Neha: So there’s good news and there’s bad news. Which one do you want first?
Ari: The bad news.
Doctor Neha: So the bad news is that no matter how you show up, no matter what you do, other people are going to interpret it the way they want to interpret it.
The good news is that if you want to be yourself and you want to show up and try to actually be original—you are authentically you—you’re going to have to learn how to manage those conversations. Imagine this: you and your friend say that you’re going to meet to go to a party together. No let’s say you’re a little bit nervous to go to the party. You don’t want to go alone. You want to go with your friend. So you both agree to meet at 7:00 on the corner of Baker Street and Union Street. “Hey, let’s just meet at the corner there and then we’ll walk over to the party together.” OK, now it’s 7:15. There are no texts, no call from your friend and your friend isn’t there. So what’s one way you might judge your friend because they didn’t show up?
Ari: I would first think they’re really irresponsible or they don’t care that much.
Doctor Neha: So you might say they’re really irresponsible and they don’t care that much. What if you made a different judgment and you made it about yourself? What would that judgment be? What if it was about you?
Ari: Probably like wondering, Am I annoying? Maybe they don’t want to hang out with me? Why did they ditch me?
Doctor Neha: Or what if you made it about something bigger than either one of you? What might you say?
Doctor Neha: I wonder if their parents didn’t let them out. I wonder if they got stuck in traffic. I wonder if something happened and they got in trouble. It could be something else that wasn’t about whether they’re irresponsible or whether you’re not someone they want to go to the party with. There are all different ways that people can run stories in their head with the same set of data. The data is we said we’d meet here at this corner Baker and Union streets, at this time and your friend isn’t here. And there’s no message.
The deal is there are lots of ways you can make up a story. The other one could be, I wonder if I said the right cross streets. You might have given the wrong streets. Your friend might be waiting at another cross street, and you said something different. Which one of those stories is true?
Ari: Probably the one about their parents or the directions were wrong.
Doctor Neha: We don’t know! Until you ask them, you actually don’t know which story, if any, is true. You know what teenagers do a lot of the time—and adults do it too—they run all types of stories and they’re sure that they know what happened even when they don’t actually know. Then they talk about each other and say things like, “I bet so-and-so flaked on me.” You know what I’m talking about?
Ari: Yeah. That situation happens all the time!
Doctor Neha: So that’s a really important one to understand that first you have data and facts, such as you can hear my voice, you can see my body language speaking to you, and you can hear the words I’m saying. That’s data, what you pick up with your five senses. For instance, there’s a text saying we’d meet at Baker and Union Street at 7:00 p.m. on this day. Other facts are that I’m looking around and my friend isn’t here. I look at my phone and there is no voicemail. All of those are facts. Now, there’s an infinite number of ways you can interpret those facts to spin something to the story you want to believe and make other people believe.
So the take-home is when you realize that somebody is saying something to you, you have to ask yourself, “Are they giving me facts or are they making up their version of the story?” Does that make sense?
Doctor Neha: What you do now when your friend shows up and maybe it’s 7:20, instead of getting really angry or upset at your friend, you stick to the facts. What you say is, “Hey, I thought we were going to meet at 7:00.” And then you ask a question, “What happened?” Because if you start using stories and saying things like, “I knew that you don’t respect me. You’re a jerk…,” it’s going to be a disaster. And since you now know that you don’t know which story is true until you ask the other person, you can simply ask about the facts. “Hey, I thought we were going to meet at 7, what happened?” And then they might say, “You actually said at Union and Chestnut in the text, and you’re at Union and Baker. So I thought I’d come looking because I thought maybe we had our streets wrong.” See how much drama you would have just avoided?
Doctor Neha: So you state the facts, the data, and then you ask a question. Does that make sense?
Doctor Neha: So the good news is now you know that. The bad news is all your peers don’t know how to do that. So they might still be confused and be telling stories about everybody else. But you can ask questions like, “How did you know that? How did you know that they did it intentionally and they meant to be a jerk?” And they might respond with something like, “Oh, well, they always do it.” Now, you know that’s not fact; that’s a story that they’re making up. So what are your takeaways from our session today?
Ari: Honestly, it was really helpful for me because these kinds of things happen a lot. And I do tend—and I think every teenager has a tendency—to overreact and overthink. This really helped me realize that it doesn’t have to be dramatic all the time.
Doctor Neha: Sometimes it’s fun to be dramatic. Let’s be honest.
Ari: Yes, it’s fun sometimes but not when people’s feelings are always getting hurt then it’s not a fun time. This kind of showed me how to develop a little more maturity or rather sympathy and be able to like calm yourself and do things correctly rather than just attacking someone for no reason.
Doctor Neha: It allows you to shift from blaming somebody into curiosity, right?
Doctor Neha: And that will give you connection instead of separating you from your friends.
So for all of you out there who know that sometimes you jump to conclusions and you aren’t always listening and you might make up some stories when you don’t have all the facts, pay attention because our question today wasn’t just for teens. It’s for every single one of us. So thanks, Ari.
Ari: Thank you.