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Say What You Mean

You have likely heard the expression “Say what you mean and mean what you say” and there are a number of references to its derivation. One of them may be found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“Come, we shall have some fun now!” thought Alice. “I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles. — I believe I can guess that,” she added aloud.
“Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?” said the March Hare.
“Exactly so,” said Alice.
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”

Another is from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches the Egg:

I meant what I said,
and I said what I meant
An elephant’s faithful,
One hundred percent.

The words “say what you mean and mean what you say” arise in various occasions in our communications. And when it comes to conflict, they have, in my experience, come up when someone perceives another person is not being direct or honest about what she or he has to say. Or, she or he is perceived as misaligning words and actions. Or, the speaker’s words might appear dissonant to the listener. Or, it may even be an admonishment by someone who is urging another to just say what’s on their mind.

There are many reasons why we may not always say what we mean and mean what we say. Fear of offending or of reprisal, confusion, a way to test an idea, politeness combined with an accommodating style and so on. In any case, conflict can result when communications are not altogether clear or due to the apparent mismatching of message and intent.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog asks you to consider a time you have not said what you meant and meant what you said.

  • What is the situation?
  • What did you say that wasn’t what you meant?
  • What did you mean?
  • What kept you from expressing that (your answer to the previous question)?
  • What was the other person’s perception, as far as you know?
  • How did it feel – not saying what you meant and meaning what you said?
  • How did it work for you?
  • How did it work against your hopes?
  • On a scale of 1-10 (1 being not at all and 10 being a great deal) how would you rate your desire to have conveyed your message with the intended meaning?
  • What would it have taken for you to say what you meant and be perceived as meaning what you said – if your score for the previous question was more than 1?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

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