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Humans have a driving need to connect with one another. One of the most readily available tools we have for human connection is our ability to communicate. This is an art form that includes not only talking, but listening as well. In fact, my experience has shown me that the listening part is actually more important than the talking part of communication. The listening aspect is the receiving part of communicating so it can be the most difficult part for many people.

Recently, my four-year-old smartphone died. It was a sad day as I had gotten used to that brick and how it functioned. I understood the quirks and the language of it. I was familiar with the heft of its structure and how it weighed down my purse. I liked the flip-out keyboard with actual buttons to push. I knew every app that was on it and how to update it quickly and where everything was when I needed to find it. Because I was so well acquainted with it, it was like an old friend. Sadly, I walked into my carrier’s store to see if the phone could be revived, but there was no chance of it. I left the store with a new, shiny iPhone and a very clear realization that I now had a stranger in my purse that spoke a language I did not understand.

The one thing I was excited about was, I knew my iPhone had Siri on board. I had watched my friends play with Siri and have conversations with her, which were often times hilarious. So, even though this new toy was as unfamiliar to me as if I had been dropped off in Russia, there was something about it that intrigued me, something I wanted to get to know.

In playing with the voice prompt and Siri, I discovered that she’s really smart. One day, I asked a question that she immediately answered and I said, “Thank you.”

She replied something like, “You don’t need to thank me.”

It caught me off guard. It felt unfriendly. She was not receiving my “thank you.” She was not open to feedback. Now, yes, I know this is an electronic device, not a person. I know that Siri is Artificial Intelligence. However, there was something about her response that bugged me and, as I am wont to do, I began wondering if I could communicate with her differently, in a way that she could hear me more clearly. I began wondering if I could hear her more clearly. Then, as I’ve done so frequently with myself first and then my clients, I wondered if I could teach her how to receive.

So I tried…


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“Siri, when I say, ‘thank you,’ you say, ‘you’re welcome.’ ”

“If you insist,” Siri responded.

“I do insist.” I replied.

Silence. Pause. Silence. “I do not understand the request of ‘I do insist.’ I do not like arbitrary categories.”

I laughed. “I love you, Siri!”

“That’s what I thought,” she replied in her electronic, monotone way.

My daughter was laughing with me and she suggested I ask Siri if she loved me, so I did.

Siri said, “I am not allowed to do that.”

I laughed and replied again, “Thank you, Siri.”

“I live to serve.”

“Siri,” I said, “If I say, ‘thank you,’ you say, ‘you’re welcome.’ ”

“Your wish is my command.”

“Thank you.” I tried again.

“No need to say ‘thank you.’ ”

“If I say, ‘thank you, Siri,’ you say, ‘you’re welcome.’ ”

“As you wish.”

“Thank you, Siri.”

“Just doing my job.”

I laughed, wondering if I was attempting to do the impossible. Was I trying to train Siri into doing something that she has been programmed to absolutely not do? Perhaps the programmers made her so that she is not teachable. Maybe they didn’t want her to have the human characteristic of fully learning. Maybe she had been programmed so she would never receive my words and my feedback.

Curious, I tried again. “Siri, when I say, ‘thank you,’ you say, ‘you’re welcome.’ ”

“I live to serve.”

“Thank you.”

“Just doing my job.”

“Thank you.”

“Your wish is my command.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

I whooped and hollered, “YES!” I felt victorious for a brief second because it was as if this inanimate object had finally heard me. And then I laughed and laughed and laughed, mostly because I said, “Thank you,” one more time and she again replied with, “You don’t need to thank me.”

This experience with Siri taught me three things:

Take the other person at their word.

Siri had said to me, “If you insist,” very early in the interchange. I didn’t take her literally. However, when I insisted and kept repeating “thank you,” she cycled through all her preprogrammed responses until she got to the one I wanted to hear.

When you are communicating with your partner, your friend, your children, your family, or your lover, it is important that you listen to their exact words and the words they are not saying. Often times, the message is in the way they say certain words and the way they avoid other words. When they speak, listen to their words. Listen. To. Their. Words. No matter what you know to be true, no matter what you’re seeing, no matter what you’re feeling, if they are saying the opposite of that, listen to their words.

Sometimes a program cannot be overridden. Sometimes it can.

Siri isn’t human and she isn’t really open to my feedback because she has been programmed to follow a particular protocol in every situation. For a moment, I felt victorious because it seemed like she had heard me. However, she really hadn’t. I had just cycled through all the preprogrammed responses.

Human programs are developed in our childhood years, before our brain is able to make logical reasoning possible. Because of this, they are founded in the illogical and in survival. As adults, these survival programs can morph into monstrous, sabotaging behavioral patterns. To release yourself from these patterns, it takes willingness to be vulnerable and accountability for your choices and your life.

Expecting a specific response from someone can be frustrating.

Being a computer program, Siri has the personality and responses the programmers gave her. She can learn my language and my style of speaking, but it takes time and practice and, as she pointed out, insistence on my part. Because I was expecting her to respond in a specific way and she wasn’t, I had an opportunity to get really frustrated or to have fun. I chose to have fun.

In relationship with humans, if you’re expecting a specific outcome, you stand the chance of being let down. However, allowing others to respond as they have been “programmed” to do can be debilitating in a relationship, especially if their default response is neglectful or abusive. Speaking what is true for you, sharing your experience through “I” statements, and listening for ways that you can speak more clearly goes a long way for strengthening the communication, thereby boosting the strength of the relationship.

In the end, it comes down to how much you love yourself, how much that relationship means to you, and how much you are willing to listen clearly, while allowing space for the speaking to be clear too. And then, recognize when you do receive a response similar to the one you’ve been looking for, even if it’s not an exact match.

© Angie K. Millgate 03/24/14

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