Sometimes something you hear or say just doesn’t sit right with you, but you can’t figure out why. The words sound okay. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with them. But something wrong and you’re having a hard time finding what it is.
That’s when I think it’s time to look for the words that are written in invisible ink.
What does that even mean? And how do you find something that’s invisible?
Okay, what that means. There are words that are hiding. They factor in, but you’re not saying or hearing them, so they are hidden. They are sneaking around in your brain, and sometimes they make a mess of things.
For example, I was working with a client last week, and she said something that sounded pretty reasonable. “I need to put myself first sometimes.” Sounds fine, right? But it didn’t sit well with her. It brought up really uncomfortable feelings of guilt and shame and selfishness. Why? There were some words tagged on at the end in invisible ink: “at the expense of everyone else.” Those six invisible words were the foundation of a hidden belief that the only way to put herself first was at the expense of everyone else.
Once she found those words, she was able to cross them out and update her belief to something that was much more comfortable for her – no guilt or shame needed.
Another example – assumptions are often written in invisible ink. I was listening to a fight between a couple of family members (a very rare occurrence, I’m happy to say!) and I couldn’t really figure out what they were fighting about. I had to ask (a potentially touchy thing to do, but I did it gently and with curiosity…and luck). Why does that make you mad? Answer: because of unspoken assumptions galore…most of them way off target. Bringing them out cleared up the fight really quickly.
A final example – implications. Most of the time when I find myself reacting negatively to something I hear or say or read (you know, email and texts) it’s because I am writing implications in invisible ink. I am making it mean something about me, usually without even recognizing that I’m doing it. And most of the time I am wrong, because it very rarely is actually even about me! I just jump to the invisible implication.
So…how do you find something that’s written in invisible ink? I have two suggestions.
First try saying what you’ve got out loud and listening for the unspoken words: the but, the and, the if, the if only, the yeah but, the and that means… etc. That’s the stuff that’s written in invisible ink.
The second option is to say it out loud to someone you trust and ask them what you’re missing. Give them a little context. Let them ask questions. Find them together. Chances are they will hear them or see them before you do. And you’ll know it when you find them.
By the way, not all unspoken words and invisible ink are negative. Some are just wonderful, and made even better by being spoken out loud.
And also by the way, the color for this topic is, of course, clear! Crystal clear!
May all your invisible ink be made visible and reveal the phrase “because I love you.”
In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!
Love and light,
If you’re interested in using Color Thinking for your own leadership development program, let’s talk. I invite you to schedule a call if you’d like to chat about it. Or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org