"What do you mean what do I mean?"
Have you ever found yourself wrapped up in a misunderstanding and you really have no idea how you got there?
You thought you were doing everything in your power to communicate clearly and yet somehow things all went wrong?
It happens to all of us, and sometimes with frustrating regularity!
Whether the communication breakdown happens with our spouse, our kids, our co-worker, our mother-in-law or some stranger we are interacting with for the first time, very often the source of the problem is the same.
We find it difficult to communicate because we all tend to make the same unhelpful assumption.
We all assume that others see what we see, feel what we feel, and think the way we think!
Unfortunately, we are often so attached to proving our point we are unable to see how the other person sees the world in a completely different way. We can forget that we all come from different experiences and therefore have different perspectives. And as a result, we all look at the world through different lenses.
How we see the world depends on our age, our gender, our socioeconomic status, our birth order, our marital status, our past experiences, our confirmation biases and so much more!
So with all that in between us how do we ever communicate clearly?
It's important to start seeing communication as more than just getting our point across, it's important to see communication as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Communication is about sharing our worlds with each other, the only way this can happen is if we remain open, curious and nonjudgmental.
Instead of being so focused on being "right" or proving our point, a conversation, especially is we would call the conversation a "disagreement" is the perfect place to listen, to ask questions, and be open to feedback.
If our conversations are filled with assumptions it will lead to a place of hurt, confusion, misunderstanding, and anger.
So the next time you are in a conversation and you find it's heading south ask yourself :
* What assumptions am I making here?
So often we assume that the other person has had our same experiences and therefore have the same values and viewpoints as we do. But even in a family, siblings have had very different experiences growing up. So dig deeper and ask yourself things like, how are they different than me in gender, age, background, religion, marital status, etc.
(I often have to remind myself that the people I'm talking to didn't all grow up a small town in the middle of the Bible belt!)
* How might they be seeing this from a completely different viewpoint?
Having different experiences means we value different things. This results in us we put our focus in different areas and being triggered in different ways!
Growing up in a family that struggled financially with extremely hard-working parents means I have certain ideas about things like equal wages, living wages, the standard of living, and universal healthcare. But how would someone who grew up with different financial resources view these things? How might we clash not because the other is a "bad" person, or "wrong" but simply because we grew up looking at the world through completely different circumstances? What could I learn from someone whose early development years has been drastically different than mine?
* What is causing me to have my viewpoint?
What has influenced us to have the viewpoint we have? And how has the other person's experience been different than ours? Taking a look at how we build our viewpoint can often lead to some amazing self-awareness and open us up to seeing how others might be building their viewpoints!
* Where could they be giving different meanings then what I had intended?
We often think that words all have the same meaning - but clearly this is not so! If a wife asks a husband how she looks and he says "fine" you know they are interpreting that word completely differently lol!! So ask yourself, do the words I'm using have multiple meanings? How could the other person be interpreting the words I use in a way that might not be the way I intended?
* What are some questions I could ask to clear up the assumptions that I am making?
By asking questions you open up a bridge to the other person that allows you to understand where they are coming from and causes you to grow both as a person and in the relationship! So instead of worrying about getting your point across get curious about their viewpoint and how they got it! What is their background, what experiences have they had, what are their fears, what outcomes they are looking for, what things have influenced them? The list of questions goes on and on!
So the next time you find yourself in a conversation going south, get excited! This is an opportunity for you to learn, to grow and to practice building a bridge!