What is Standing in Your Door?

Colin Smith is known as the Listener.  According to Colin, we can think so much faster than we can speak that we have thoughts lined up – like ballerinas waiting to dance out over our lips.  But we rarely get a chance to send more than one or two onto the scene before somebody breaks in, and the conversation goes off in their direction.  Then we sit quietly thinking we had such good points to make, but the conversation has moved on to other subjects and we have no way to get them out.

Colin’s superpower is to invite more dancers to join on the scene; to allow us to present the whole ensemble.  (And he not only gives us the time but also pays attention to what we say, not to how he might respond.)

I have used Colin’s insight to encourage others to journal.  Until they have gotten the first ballerina onto the stage – their initial idea onto paper or into a document – the rest of the thoughts and ideas are waiting out in the wings.  They are still ephemeral because somebody, the dominant part of the thought or idea, is already standing in “the door”. Taking up the space.  The second and third and all the rest of the ensemble have a hard time getting access to our conscious mind until they get words attached to and describing them, and that happens in “the door”.

This image has helped more than a couple of people change their minds and start writing down thoughts.

In a post by Ali Anani on toxic behaviors on social media, I took Colin’s thought in another direction.

What happens when we are sitting on a piece of “constructive feedback” but haven’t given it to the person who “needs to hear it”?  (Well, actually, they don’t need our thought, but we need to get rid of it.)

Something annoys us – and as emotions are the vehicle for forming memories, we have fabulous memories of people who have annoyed us.  We may have forgotten why we were annoyed but the sting of annoyance sits on this relationship.  Writing that angry letter – and not sending it – is one way to clear “the door”.  But politely and privately asking “This is what I heard/read…. – is this what you meant?” can be a way to deliver the feedback – without calling the other person names or saying things we may later regret.

Perhaps what we heard was what the other person meant, and perhaps it was not.  If it wasn’t, it was a communication glitch.  That happens.  If it was what the person meant, we can curiously ask how the person came to that conclusion.

But what if we don’t do anything with our feedback?  What happens next time we read something from or have an interaction with this person?

We start with this feeling of annoyance.  A feeling that very likely is based on a communication glitch.  Because we are annoyed, we get biased against what the person brings forth in this new interaction.  Reversely, if we have given the feedback, stated our curiosity, and found common ground, we assume that we once again can find common ground.

True to form, Ali Anani switched this around once more, and saw the interaction with people who previously have given us feedback not coming from good intentions.  How open are we to considering their new feedback?

The unsolved conflict from the previous interaction is blocking the door for taking new feedback in – even if, coming from another person, we might have found it insightful and helpful.

Do you journal? Is anything standing in your door, blocking the way in or out? 


Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp
Charlotte Wittenkamp is an organizational psychologist who counsels international transfers, immigrants, and foreign students in overcoming culture shock. Originating from Denmark, where she worked in organizational development primarily in the finance industry, Charlotte has lived in California since 1998. Her own experiences relocating lead down a path of research into value systems and communication patterns. She shares this knowledge and experience through speaking and writing and on her website Many of these “learning experiences” along with a context to put them in can be found in her book Building Bridges Across Cultural Differences, Why Don’t I Follow Your Norms?. On the side, she leads a multinational and multigenerational communication training group.

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  1. Insightful content, as always, Charlotte. I like the door metaphor.
    I’d like to say a few words about giving online feedback.
    When I started blogging, I thought it was my “duty” to write honest and constructive feedback on other people’s posts and comments, especially those expressing thoughts and ideas I disagreed with. How naive I was! 😕 Social media taught me that giving feedback on a screen easily gets misinterpreted.
    I wrote a lot about the importance of giving and receiving constructive feedback from which both parties can “profit.” I still believe in the benefits of honest feedback, but I realised that the best place for doing it is outside social media.
    There are people on LinkedIn I interacted with often, but not anymore because the way they delivered feedback annoys me. Their feedback is mostly empty praises and accolades, and they often quote the text from the article or post instead of commenting in their own words.
    Communication glitches are inevitable. With some people, I solved a glitch through private messages. My door is still open for those I didn’t.
    But my ‘door’ is closed to any future communication for those who previously posted comments coming with bad intentions. Life is too short to spend on angry and frustrated people who hide behind their screens.

    • Amen – life is really to short for trolls.

      As for real but frustrated and angry people online, I generally assume that they have good reasons that they are frustrated and angry and that I am NOT one of those reasons. I mean, how much energy would I invest in a person I haven’t even met? Enough to get angry? Hardly.
      So at times I look for if there are other aspects of that person I can like enough for me not to close the door on them. It has paid off more than once.

      And if not for your lovely comment, I might not even have been aware myself that this is apparently my m.o.

  2. Beautiful and insightful …as always Charlotte.
    Sitting with 2 points this morning:
    “Perhaps what we heard was what the other person meant, and perhaps it was not. If it wasn’t, it was a communication glitch. That happens. If it was what the person meant, we can curiously ask how the person came to that conclusion.”
    I think it starts here… clarity in communication with an open heart.

    Second… the source of the feedback does carry meaning for me. If I would not ask your advice, I most likely won’t be open to the feedback. Not everyone is going to like me…or my perspective, or my ideas and that’s OK.

    And lastly… if anything is in the door, run as fast as you can for the paper.

    • That last sentence made me laugh out loud, Carolyn. Yes, or open the laptop with a fresh document.

      On feedback, your statement shows to me that we have to be even more conscientious about cleaning up communication mishaps, because our credibility going forward with this person hinges on it.

  3. The ballerina of my first thought reading your article, Charlotte is amazingly striking. I recall your comment and suggesting to you to write this post. You did a great job.

    Feedback effect you expanded to include the residual negative effect. We tend to generalize from first experience. If I ate a food for the first time and hated it I tend to hate it for long times. The residual feedback effect can block us from seeing the value of a feedback. Sometimes we tend to care more for the who gave the feedback rather than what value the feedback has.

    As you suggested we need to breathe out our anger rather than allow it to form a sticky residue.