Reading Between The Lines

Reading Between The Lines

Have you ever heard anyone say “read between the lines?” Have you ever tried practicing it yourself?

When places started reopening after the lockdown, my father was still uncomfortable with me going out. I was super frustrated and had reached my saturation point. I finally went to my dad after he came back from work to ask if I could go for a drive.

Apeksha: “Pappa, can I go out this Sunday for a drive with my friends?”

Pappa: “Not yet.”

Apeksha: “Why not?”

Pappa: “I said no”

Apeksha: “Yes, arrey par kyu? Everyone has started going out. Why can’t I go out?”

Pappa: “Because it is not safe, beta.”

Apeksha: “This is unfair. I am going this Sunday.”

Pappa : “Dekhte hain tum kaise jaogi.”

Obviously, I didn’t end up going. I didn’t want to risk another episode of Mahabharata at home. I was so angry, upset & frustrated. I felt cooped up at home.

 A few days later, my friend invited me over for her birthday. I was so sure I wouldn’t be allowed. I almost didn’t ask. One morning, I was up early & my dad was also working. It was just us. He seemed so calm and relaxed. I thought I should give it a try.

Apeksha: “Pappa, it’s Yukti’s birthday day after. Can I go?”

Pappa: “By what time will you be back?”

Apeksha: “6 pm”

Pappa: “Okay, you can go. But don’t forget to wear a mask.”

I was shocked! What just happened? Did he just say yes? That too, at the first try? Woah!

What changed? Why did he say yes now?

What I realized is when I asked my dad for permission when he came back from work, I couldn’t see the exhaustion in his posture or the creases on his forehead. He was tired. I wasn’t sensitive to his mood. Maybe all he needed to relax was a hot cup of tea. Instead of offering him that, I pushed him to let me go out to the point that we both were almost screaming. 

When asked in the morning, my dad was relaxed & well-rested. The day had just begun. He had had his morning cup of tea. I am not saying that is the only reason he said yes but it was definitely a factor in his decision. I have lived with him for 22 years now and I still couldn’t sense his mood from his body language. 

I connected this fairly simple realization to the work I was doing.

When I was in the process of research and development of #करो Playdates, we interviewed quite a few people. We asked them questions about their day to day life, their goals, their values, etc. Then, we had to “harvest” the data from these interviews. This process involves creating transcripts & analyzing the data we collected. It was mind-boggling. Despite having hour-long intense conversations with the interviewees, the data gathered was insufficient.

We had to re-watch the interviews multiple times or even re-interview some people to figure out what they were saying. This time we studied not just their words but also their eyes, their expressions, and their tone. 

We noticed that their words were a very small part of what they were saying. Their eyes & tone spoke volumes.

 In some instances, we sensed pain and in others we sensed bitterness. I am pretty sure, there were more chinks in their armor, more underlying emotions we couldn’t figure out. That is when I realized that “Reading between the lines” is key to effective and empathetic communication. It was subtle but hard. 

The Japanese have a three faces theory. They say the first face is the one we show to the world. The second one, we only show our close friends and family. The third one, we don’t show anybody and that is the truest reflection of who we are.

This is something which most of us do regularly. We are different around our family & different around our friends. With every group of people, our behavior, or the way we speak changes. With our friends, we might speak freely, but with our elders, we speak respectfully. Everyone sees a different you because you show a different you. 

When we meet new people, we are constantly trying to create an impression and fit in. We show them what we want them to see. Similarly, in our interviews, people were not showing who they really are. What their real pains or fears are. But sometimes through a simple change in their expression or their tone people show the chinks in their armor. Those are the rare moments when we get a glimpse of their third face. 

In order to create more moments where I can see the third face of others and truly understand who they are; I need to pick up non-verbal cues and actively practice the art of reading between the lines.

Only when you look closely, can you read between the lines.

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