How To Minimise Misunderstandings
I wonder how many people have died as a result of misunderstandings. How many relationships have been put to the sword because of what people thought, even though it wasn’t even true?
Life is so fraught with misheard, half-caught words that surely everyone has suffered much as a result of this communication failure.
In some ways, I wish we all learned how to minimize misunderstandings when we were still at school. Then we’d have the skills to persist in relationships when rough stuff comes up, and competently clarify rather than throw our hands up in the air and overdramatize matters.
Think of couples falling out because he thought she meant something else. Or, how about parents frustrated with their teens because neither understands the intentions of the other?
As history shows, nations have eagerly gone to war due to mutual misunderstandings. Likewise, today, despite all of our clever ways to communicate we still become bogged down in conflict, thanks to misinterpreting what people say and why.
For these reasons we would all benefit from better methods of expression to help us prevent potential mix-ups and spare ourselves a great deal of irritation. So, for the sake of convenience, I’ve made a list of approaches you can use to reduce confusion. They won’t always work. But they will make a difference:
- Listen twice. Making a point to clarify what people mean before reacting doesn’t come naturally to us. So it’s important to practice restating key points with people in a neutral way (e.g. “So are you saying that you don’t like me or the way I chew my food?”).
- Go slowly. Rather than reacting to inflammatory remarks, deliberately choose not to escalate the situation with negative comments of your own and slow the situation down. Rather than making us stronger, lashing back makes us play in an aggressive way, so choose to do the opposite. For instance, when a child is throwing books into the trash you could throw your own tantrum. Or, you could say something like, “I gather by the way you are flipping them into the bin that you want to get rid of those books. But you do realize that I still read them to you at night and they were a gift from your great Aunty Gladys, don’t you?
- Remember We Don’t Know. Nobody knows everything about anyone else. So it makes sense to factor in unknown variables in every situation. That person yelling could be overwrought because they just broke up with their partner moments ago over the phone. And even institutions sometimes make strange decisions, based on the leadership decision-making. A price hike in a school’s fees, for example, could be the best measure to ensure your child is looked after (even though they omitted to tell you so, preferring to emphasize how good they are and why they are proud to have the highest fees around).
- Beware Of Having to Always Be Right. Sometimes, it’s wise to let it “go to the keeper” as our American friends say and surrender the need to prove yourself in the situation. Nobody is always right and thankfully, nobody reasonably expects you to be either.
- Switch Streams. When misunderstandings escalate they can really get under your skin. That is, unless you immerse yourself in something else more pressing. Doing something different that totally absorbs your concentration for a while lets the heat go out of the situation so you can review it again in a clearer frame later.
- Unpeel From Feelings. When our hackles go up we can no longer think clearly. This, paradoxically, makes it all the more important to allow for mutual communication that is not charged with fury, hurt, and rancor. Sometimes, putting the facts of a situation down on paper or screen can help us step away from the emotional intensity enough to see different perspectives. So acknowledge the potency of emotions to cloud clear thinking and seek the most levelheaded processes possible to decipher the situation.
Like miscommunication, hard words, nastiness, and indifference can cause divisive rifts in any relationship. That’s why it is important to gather a few strategies (like these) to help you interpret wisely what is going on so everyone can make the best of the situation.
It may not be easy but exercising skills in listening, clarifying, and coping are excellent methods to reduce the amount of confusion in your life. And even if they only prevent you suffering just one big misunderstanding, they are worth it.
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