I first learned this core truth about mixed messages from an amazing therapist who I visited for a time after a nasty divorce. If I’d only knew this all along, I’m sure it would have saved me from a lot of wasted time and heartache.
The truth about mixed messages? When words and actions are not in alignment, look for the action (or lack thereof) for the unspoken message.
Here is a simple example to illustrate the point.
You keep inviting your friend to lunch and, in spite of the fact that they keep saying they want to get together, they never commit. What you hear is that they want to spend time with you. The action/inaction you see is non-commitment.
When words and actions are out of alignment, behavior always trumps words. Always.
This technique of analyzing behavior is heavily used in the workplace for hiring decisions. Analyzing past behavior, such as how a person handles conflict, stress, stretch assignments, or organizational change, is a predictor of future performance. In this way, what an employee says during the interview process means nothing when compared to hearing their real-life examples of the employee in action. Trained hiring teams know when an employee is attempting to stage a scenario — it’s all in the details.
Ever since I first learned this technique more than 20 years ago, I’ve used it as a compass to help me gauge interactions with others, whether my family or new acquaintances.
So back to the friend giving you mixed messages. You have a couple of choices to consider.
- You can address the discrepancy between words and action/inaction and ask them to help you understand the gap. Listen carefully to their explanation and trust your gut. If they’re full of excuses, this may not be a friendship worth your continued investment. If they are surprised by the realization and commit to action, then it could be worth the effort to give them the benefit of the doubt.
- You can walk away. This may sound cold, but it all boils down to priorities. If your relationship is as important to them as it is to you, then you’d be having lunch with your friend right now instead of reading this post. If you have to beg to be moved up the list of priorities, well….
Relationships are not mutually exclusive — they are co-creations of mutual intention. Relationships require both participants to keep it healthy and worthwhile. Ongoing effort from both parties is needed to nurture a relationship over time. Whether the relationship is the question of a new BFF or a long-term partner, the reality is that an investment of energy and effort is where the rubber hits the road. Giving mixed messages is a sign that someone is not speaking their truth.
Who is receiving the benefit of your energy? Are these recipients reciprocating in a way that feels meaningful to you? If not, what would it take for you to have a dialogue around the discrepancy to strengthen the connection?
Where might you be giving and/or receiving mixed messages? What might that say about the true intention? How can you better step into that truth?