What we talkin about when we talk about

messages lie in words …. But it’s metamessages that have clout, because they stir emotions, and emotions are the currency of relationships.

So said Deborah Tannen on page 10 of I only say this because I love you (2001).

Tannen wrote “those closest to us have front-row seats to view our faults” yet they also have the proximity to our attributes, gifts but we perpetuate a culture that does not appreciate as much as it deprecates.

A decade ago, I remember how bringing an assets based approach was a welcome salve in the nonprofit/civic sector rather than the continued fixation with being motivated by what was missing or lacking in a place and wanting to be the problem solvers by confronting those things that were missing. But a few workshops in a year full of meetings results in a low concentration. And that short lived attempt to embrace what a place had was challenging to sustain when being critical is easy and familiar and a way that we have been told to treat one another in school, at work, in public spaces, and at home.

Now, I have made it a fixture of naming appreciations for the people i am with on a daily basis, at the end of most of the webinars that I design. And still it is difficult for people to begin with what they like.

Tannen elaborated no messages and metamessages by saying:

  • message: the meaning of the words and sentences spoken, what anyone with a dictionary and a grammar book could figure out.
  • metamessage: “the meaning that is not said, what we glean from every aspect of context: the way something is said, who is saying it, or that fact that it is said at all.

Or using another metaphor that “message is the word meaning while metamessage is the heart meaning.” Tanner elaborated by saying how metamessages are implicit and difficult to pinpoint as they are about relationships. Her early suggestion is to distinguish metamessage from message and one way of doing so is metacommunicating or talking about communication, which I suppose is using words to describe the implicit heart emotions.