Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Are you inadvertantly damaging your interactions & relationships with “UVV”?

Please read beyond the first paragraph – there’s a gem in here – honest!

How many times have you vomited today? Yes, you read right. How many times? It may well have been several, yet you probably will not even have been aware.

Now, before you think I have taken leave of my senses or feel like taking your leave of this blog in disgust, please stick with me as this is leading to somewhere significant.

In order for my above questions to make more sense, I need to go back a few years to a customer care course that I ran for a major, well known company who sold fashion jewellery and accessories. There were ten people on the two day programme, all of whom were responsible for dealing with customer enquiries, queries and complaints. On the second day we were scheduled to run a number of role plays using phone recording equipment.

The brief was quite straightforward: “Each role play will involve one delegate playing an angry, dissatisfied customer and the other person will have responsibility for dealing with the complaint”. The ultimate objective – to turn a scream into a thank you.

We set about conducting the role plays. What was interesting was that, by the end of the ten interactions, five had gone well – ie: satisfied customer and five had degenerated – ie: call escalated and customer left even more angry.

I found this 50/50 split intriguing and decided to set about establishing whether there were any common factors that applied to the successful calls and any that applied to the unsuccessful ones.

I listened to each call again in my own time. Once I had worked my way through all ten calls I had found my answer.

In every call that degenerated, precisely the same thing happened. It was barely discernable and happened in a split second. The person dealing with the unhappy customer butted in while the customer was speaking. In all five calls that worked out well, this did not happen.

The name I give for this kind of butting in is “vomiting” or more precisely “verbal vomiting”. I suggest that uncontrolled verbal vomiting (UVV) is a modern day epidemic and virtually all of us do it at times. The term is certainly  unpleasant, even offensive to some, yet is an accurate reflection of the potential  unpleasantness or offensive nature of cutting in on someone in this way.

In my last blog I touched on the fact that people who do not listen are, in fact behaving in an aggressive way. I’d say that UVV is probably one of the most insidious examples of such aggression. It is arguably the biggest single contributor to breakdown in interactions and ultimately relationships.

Let’s explore briefly why we do this.

Reasons for interrupting someone can include a lack of time, impatience or a fear that, unless we blurt out what we want to say, we will miss our opportunity to speak. In a customer care or advisory situation, it can be born of an eagerness to jump in and help with a solution – the mental process being “if you just shut up, I’ll be able to help you, I have an idea/the solution!” The risk of UVV damage can be exacerbated if we happen to disagree with the other person or judge them out of hand.

Verbal vomit is just as disrespectful, messy and difficult to clear up as the real thing.

If I cut across someone while they are speaking, it is almost guaranteed that they will want to interrupt me back. Within seconds this is likely to lead to both parties talking over each other and ending up having an unholy row. I would go as far as to suggest that most rows start with a UVV.

Think of a row you had recently. Chances are that it started with such an interruption.

The sub text of the UVV is tantamount to saying – “Will you shut up, what I’ve got to say is more important” or “I have no respect for you” or similar. This was like death to those five customer care role plays – especially given that the customer was already upset. However, this goes beyond just customers – it could extend to colleagues, business associates, partners or spouses, children – in fact anyone.

We only have to switch on the TV or radio to encounter examples of UVV. The political debate for example. I clearly recall one occasion a few years ago where a number of politicians and commentators were debating the breakdown in behavioural standards among young people and how they showed little respect for authority. I was appalled to observe these, seemingly intelligent, influential individuals cutting across each other and, displaying the very types of behaviour they were admonishing!

Just observe the historian Dr David Starkey next time he is on a TV or radio debate programme. One of the most “intelligent”, learned men on the planet, yet his middle initials could well be UVV.

Too few people challenge such behaviour in an assertive way. We either go passive and allow the other person to get away with it, or we butt back and things escalate into a row or at best a conversation of the deaf.

 I actually observed a young child dealing admirably with a UVV just the other week. A friend was visiting with his seven year old son and five year old daughter. I’ll call them Daisy and Johnnie. Daisy was talking to us about something, when Johnnie cut across with a resplendent UVV. She immediately countered by emphatically saying “Johnnie, please don’t interrupt me, I haven’t finished what I was saying!”.  He stopped talking and silently heard her out. Sublime.

 If only more people had the guts to say that to Dr Starkey!

One of the simplest ways to influence another person or to build a strong relationship with them is to listen to them. I sometimes call this “listening people into doing things” rather than talking them into it.  If I hear you out, show that I have understood you, then you are much more likely to do the same in return – whether you happen to agree with me or not.

 This is not at all easy to do for most of us. I, myself butted in this morning in my eagerness to contribute to a discussion while Ingrid, my partner was talking. My son then UVV’d a couple of times while I was talking. Behaviour breeds behaviour…..

 As mentioned in my previous blog, the first step is awareness. Thankfully I was aware that I had done it and did acknowledge so and apologised at the time. Perhaps next time, I’ll catch myself, draw breath and listen fully to what is being said. Simple but not easy!

 In our busy, fast moving lives, we overlook (at our peril) the investment value of taking time to listen without interruption. This leaves all concerned frustrated as their views and feelings are going unheard and unacknowledged. I find coaching clients get huge benefit out of the fact that I am simply giving them space and that they are being listened to without interruption, advice, judgment or criticism.

 I’ll finish with one of my favourite quotes – the wise words of St Augustine: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – too many of us want it the other way around and we end up with a nasty smelly mess for us or others to clear up.

 So, how many times have you vomited today? Make sense?





3 Responses to “Are you inadvertantly damaging your interactions & relationships with “UVV”?”

  1. Chris – I love your blog – it is the first blog ever, that has managed to grab my attention and keep me interested, after 3 years of thinking I must be the only person on the planet who does not get this blog thing…. I now do, because your insights are just that and amusing to boot. Keep it up please – Mondays just got more interesting!

    Your UVV idea is spot on – we are just back from running our first programme in India, which included delegates doing role plays of real conflicts they had witnessed recently in the office. UVV was a key ingredient in the escallation. UVV occurs when people do not listen effectively, as you say. Or do not insert the EI Pause before reacting. The other thing we witnessed, in face to face conflict situations was how the body language could also cause immediate escallation, reinforcing UVV – perhaps we should refer to UVV and ABB (Aggressive Bodily Behaviour) ?!

    All the best, David

  2. Great stuff Chris!

    I sometimes call this kind of behaviour “listening for the gap”, ie waiting for the other person to draw breath, and then leaping in with your own agenda and opinion. So, not listening at all, in fact. “UVV” is rather wonderfully revoltingly graphic!

    • Rachael

      Thank you for your comment – Spot on

      I also call it the “jockey position” -where, inside we are rocking back & forth in eagerness to speak. Eventually, we can’t hold back any longer and we…..vomit.

      There is a huge gulf between l;istening & waiting to speak. In both cases we may be silent, but there is a massive difference in the underlying energy.

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