Beware of Hot Glass


Glass BeakerOne important lesson of my high school and college chemistry lab was not exactly about the chemicals and formulas. It was that glass containers looked exactly the same whether they were room temperature or very, very hot.

While it looks safe, picking up a hot glass container with your bare hand can hurt you, possibly seriously. And after a burn, you may instinctively drop the container and then be at risk for cuts by broken glass or injury by dangerous contents of the container, such as acid.

So how does this apply to improving communication?

Easy. Remember that what you say and write may initially “look” safe to you but can potentially cause great pain. This pain may be to others or, over time, to you.

I think we commonly assume most (or all) of what we say to be safe and even useful, like a cool glass container. This assumption can lead to careless or reckless comments and responses that “burn.”

Thoughtless instances of reaction or disregard can produce words that are like hot glass, appearing at first to be safe but instead damaging to all that come in contact. If done repeatedly, this damaging behavior becomes your reputation. People will learn to avoid you, just as they are instinctively wired to avoid other known danger and hazards.

Sometimes the problem of harmful comments is more than carelessness. Some people prefer to be ignored or have some emotional need to be anti-social. They develop the habit of making intentional hot glass comments. I’ve seen this from angry or frustrated people, using painful comments to lash out at others to cause pain or create space. This often leads to fights, emotional distrust, and defensive reactions. If possible, I encourage you to limit your time around such individuals just as you would give a large uncontroled fire some distance. Getting close or involved simply leads to burns, not progress.

Of course, most of us are not anti-social. We want to engage with others for business and life. Seeing our own comments from the perspective of others will help you build rapport, empathy, and understanding.

To understand our own comments better, simply have forethought. Pause to consider your comments first and learn to make this pause a habit. With practice, this pause will become instantaneous, instinctive, and natural.

Also consider your attitude on business and life. What we say and write is often a reflection of our inner self, whether we realize it or not. Those with a bad attitude are more likely to cause hurt in their words. Good attitudes lead to better and more effective messages.

Just like hot glass, our thoughtless comments can appear safe but cause harm. Like we learned to pause in the chemistry lab to determine if glass was safe to touch, we can learn to pause and be sure our messages will not cause pain either.


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.