It is very important to be a good communicator so the message conveying our perspective is understood.
Often we assume that we know how another person feels based on our own experiences. For example, when you hear the word “tree,” what kind of tree springs to mind? Personally, I see a birch tree. Someone from the tropics might see a palm tree. Same word, different interpretations.
Granted, misinterpreting information about a tree is not earth-shattering and probably won’t cause any damage. But differing perspectives and opinions with concepts such as trust, success, security, or commitment can lead to some major glitches in the communication process.
One common mistake we make when communicating is our failure to take ownership of our own choices. I often hear clients say, “they made me feel ___” or “I had no choice but to yell back.” This is absurd. We always have choices, but sometimes we just don’t like our options.
We can choose to shift mental gears and set limits. Specifically, we have power over how we interpret others’ statements and control over what comes out of our mouths. We can choose to respond, not react. We can catch ourselves about to explain, defend, debate, cajole, nag or antagonize, and choose not to do it. We can chose not to take others’ behavior personally. We can choose not to argue or shout when others yell and blame us.
Another mistake occurs when we defend ourselves against someone’s false accusations. Our mistake is to take these accusations literally, personally, and seriously. When we do, we make the mistake of choosing to plead our case in an imaginary court of law with a judge and jury of one. We make the mistake of defending our innocence to avoid being convicted as guilty and deserving punishment.
For example, if say some says, “You never listen to me” or “You always blame me.” If taken literally, these “always” and “never” remarks may not be an accurate reflection of our factual experiences. Often the listener chooses to defend against these false accusations.
So they offer evidence: “What do you mean I never listen, you said to call the plumber and I did. Here look at the phone bill. I will show you.” They call their expert witnesses to the stand: “I don’t always blame you, ask my brother, he will tell you.” However, this rarely causes the other person to change their mind and our pleas are disregarded. Thus, we feel like we failed to make our case, which only compounds the guilt and escalates the miscommunication as we retaliate with our own blaming accusations.
The same mistaken happens when we hear the word “should.” For example, our parent says, “You should have done it this way.” The word “should” implies that they know what is best and if we don’t do as they would have, then we are guilty of being wrong and need to be punished. Once again we find ourselves in the imaginary court of law, offering reasons, facts, and defenses of why we shouldn’t do as others feel we should.
A final mistaken choice people often make is choosing to use the word “why.” When there is confusion, people often ask “why” someone made the choices they did. As if an explanation of information would cause them to suddenly agree with the other person’s choices.
For example, if someone is scared of spiders they scream and protest for help. And if we are not bothered by spiders , we may grab a tissue, go squish it, and ask “Why are you scared? It’s just a spider.” They can offer a long list of reasons why they think spiders are scary and we still choose not to agree.
The mistake here is that the answer to “why” encourages the speaker to defend and justify why they think and feel what they do. No different then a child asks, “Why is the sky blue?”and we answer “because of the ocean.” So the child asks “Why is the ocean blue?” and we answer “Because of algae.” This continues, “Why is there algae?.. Because of plankton… Why is there plankton.. Just because!”
Eventually the cycle of having to defend each answer, only to be asked “why”again, leads to frustration because the answer is never sufficient to satisfy the questioner.