A few weekends ago I was at a great event held by my dear friend Alice Haemmerle at her beautiful home overlooking Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Maybe I was high on all the good vibes and brilliant content, maybe I zigged when I should have zagged, but when my high heels met her very shiny marble stairs, I had a wipeout not even the surfers outside could compete with. My left foot slipped and twisted at the same time, and I was down, the voice inside my head screaming, “WHY AM I STILL CONSCIOUS WITH THIS LEVEL OF PAIN? SOMEBODY UPSTAIRS GIVE ME AN OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE NOW!”
But conscious and in my body I remained, alas, and all I could do through the fug of pain was allow myself to be administered to. Immediately I was surrounded by caring faces, soothing voices, healing hands. They were with me constantly for the next couple of days, and when I flew back home to Melbourne, my family took over from them. They fetched ice water baths and painkillers, bound and unbound the purple-black trunk that used to be my ankle and foot, and did all the walking and driving I could not do.
I’m not any kind of model of selflessness, but it’s very interesting when a person who is used to serving others has to submit to being served. I’ve pressed rewind on this experience a few times – that’s what happens when you can’t go anywhere or do much – and asked myself some interesting questions, all of which have had interesting answers. But there is one thing that has emerged clear: return communication is a powerful thing.
Before I say anything else, let me just say this: the care I received, I received because the people who looked after me are great. It communicates volumes about them – particularly since at Alice’s I had only just met most of them. It made me humble and very grateful. But I would be really rubbish at introspection and analysis if I didn’t admit that some – not much, but it doesn’t have to be – of what I received also communicates something about me.
Communication isn’t just words and body language. It is also, crucially, actions. Ironically for a writer and communication specialist, I spent a good chunk of my life as a young parent teaching my children that “words are cheap”. Everything we do communicates something about ourselves, where we come from, what we value, and what we believe in. And like all communication, it has a return.
This is not woo-woo (not that there’s anything wrong with woo-woo if woo-woo woos you); it’s just what happens. There are exceptions, because the human race can be senselessly cruel sometimes, but a lot of the time, others’ actions towards us is a reflection of ours.
Examining return communication is vitally important for anyone – individual, business, or organisation. What is your return communication right now? I’m not talking about metrics, at least not now, but about other things that tell you, loud and clear, something about what you’re sending out into the world. Every now and then it may give you the warm fuzzies, but don’t be fooled: examining return communication is not for sissies.
The people that surround you and come to you for business are return communication. They may be few, or they may be numerous. Are you happy with these numbers? More importantly, what is the quality of these people?
Loyalty is return communication. Do people come back to you, again and again? Do they speak wonders about you to others? Or do they stay away, and speak ill of you or your product or service behind your back?
Trust is return communication. Do people believe in you, and what you say and do? Do they rely on your product or service? Or are they suspicious and defensive around you? Have they stopped coming to you?
Support is return communication. Are your people behind you all the way, cheering you on, helping you, and following when you change direction? Or are you left to your own devices?
Respect is return communication, as are kindness, consideration, and good manners. How do people treat you in the small, seemingly insignificant moments?
The answers may not be easy, but the questions are worth asking. Without them, you become yet another self-proclaimed victim of circumstance, a shrugging bystander or eavesdropper on something that has nothing to do with you. And that attitude communicates something all on its own.