“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Assumptions and misunderstandings are a natural part of relationships. Communication is, after all, complex. Like relationships, it is not straightforward. There are plenty of reasons why we would mishear or misinterpret what the other person is saying, and veer off our desired course of discourse. Here are a few…
6 reasons we misunderstand
“Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best.” ~ Bob Talbert
- Skill deficiency – Few of us have ever received communication training. We have been taught how to spell, count to 10, and to know who shot whom in 1910; we have been trained to run a database, create a business plan and file a report, but not to express ourselves and listen. Compound this with the fact that few of us have ever had healthy communication modeled to us, and we grow up with little to no framework for how to listen attentively and express ourselves clearly.
- Busyness – Our on-the-go, over-stimulated lifestyles make it hard to slow down, soften and be present to others. We struggle to release ourselves from our hectic schedules long enough to consider something beyond our endless to-do’s and frenetic minds.
- Agendas for others – We are very good at having agendas for others. While others speak, we mentally prep what we think they really should know. We listen from, or through, our agendas—through what we want to hear—often disregarding what is really being said. Our agendas act as filters that limit or distort other’s truth and hinder connection.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to learn and understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.” ~ Stephen Covey
- Conflating past and present – If you have a strong dislike of authority because of what happened to you when you were young, you may perceive someone’s comments as an attempt to control you. You project your past onto the present, shrouding the truth of what is being communicated. We do this regularly because we all have old emotionally charged stories in the shadows of our psyche that emerge into our relationships, usually without our awareness.
- Fear of clarification – We know we don’t understand, but are afraid to articulate this to the other because we don’t want to offend, interrupt or look stupid; or we may have a fear of speaking up. We would rather pretend we understand and hope for the best than seek clarification.
- Ungrounded – Effective communication is easier when we are grounded in our body. We live in a heady world that continuously pulls us north of our neck, and distracts from our body wisdom—from connecting with our breath, feelings, intuition and overall energetic state. As such, we find it hard to connect with others, to feel what others are saying and not saying; to listen with our whole body, our whole being.
”Heart has four words in it: Ear, Hear, Heat, Art. The ‘Heart of Listening’ requires us to have not only an ear, but to hear with our whole being. Working with real, whole human beings is a hot-blooded endeavour that is, above all else, an art.” ~ Hugh Milne, Craniosacral Therapist
I’ll add that “Heart” also has the word “Earth” in it—our place of grounding.
One simple question
Misunderstandings can be avoided if we work on the above points. They can also be avoided if we ask one simple question: “Can I see if I understand you correctly?”
This question is non-intrusive because we are asking permission for clarification. There is vulnerability in the question because we are opening to the fact that we may not fully understand. And there is a genuine care in the question because we care enough about the other person and the relationship to ensure that our understanding is clear.
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
Focus on what you can control and intend to connect
As always in communication, your job is to focus on what you can control—in this case it is to ask, “Can I see if I understand you correctly?” How, or if, the other person responds to you is out of your hands. Your job is to make the delivery as kind and clear as possible so that the other wants to respond to you with equal kindness and clarity. You can do so by speaking slowly, calmly and with the intention to connect. Connection is the heart of communication. Speaking slowly and calmly helps invite the other person to open to what you are saying and respond to your need for understanding.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults