Archive for August 7th, 2012
What is a meta message?
A “message” is the exact meaning of words spoken. A “meta-message” expresses someone’s true emotions and what they are implying. Meta-messages must be interpreted by the listener from the context, the tone of voice and the history of your relationship. Sometimes the true meaning is obvious, but it usually requires interpretation from your experience and insight.
A meta-message that is easy to understand
Message: “Bill, I’d love to go to the movies with you, but unfortunately this Saturday night I have to give my dog a bath.”
Meta message: I’m waiting for a better date and I’d rather stay home than ever date you! But I don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you directly.
Meta-messages that are more difficult to interpret
Frank: “Clara, let’s not go to the Italian restaurant again. I’m tired of pasta and it’s noisy there. How about a quiet place that serves soup and salad?”
Meta message could be:
Option A: I want you to lose weight by keeping you away from fattening foods.
Option B: I’m afraid I’m gaining weight and want to stay away from fattening foods.
Option C: I’m not that hungry and I’ve had a hard day. I want a simple, quiet meal.
How do we know whether the meta-message is A, B, or C? We have to rely on the history of the relationship, the tone of the words and what has recently transpired. For example, if either party has recently mentioned Clara having a weight problem, Option A might be the meta-message. If Frank has spoken at length about his hard day, we might pick Option C.
Clara: “This is an interesting article. It says men are more inclined to focus on the small details and make quick financial decisions compared to women.”
Frank, sitting nearby: (Silence)
Meta message of silence from Frank could mean:
Option A: I’m concentrating on something else right now, but I might discuss it later.
Option B: I don’t want to respond because it might lead to an argument.
Option C: That makes sense. No comment needed.
Option D: She’s mumbling again. Can’t she see I’m busy?
The Road to Power Snuggling
Be aware that words often include subtle, underlying messages. Understanding our partner’s implied emotions enables us to maintain a good relationship. Most conversations are bursting with meta-messages. They are often used to conceal or subtly reveal one’s true feelings and protect either the speaker, the listener or both. The speakers are not always aware that they are sending meta-messages. If questioned, they might deny their true intentions.
Your Weekly Homework
Spend time this week listening for the meta-messages your partner is sending. To better understand their true feelings, expand the conversation, without accusation. As you talk, listen to your own internal voices so you better understand the messages you are sending. (For more information, read Deborah Tannen’s book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.)