Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever had your words and actions misinterpreted? Have you ever set out with the best intentions only to have someone get upset with you and accuse you of being rude, disrespectful, or selfish? I know the answers to these questions are a resounding, “Yes!”
No matter how “good” we are as people, there will be times in our lives where people will get offended by something that we said because they understood it differently than what we meant it to be. You understand what I am saying?
But in those people’s defense, I know that we are also guilty of doing the same thing. We, too, have misunderstood what a person said or meant, gotten offended, upset, resentful because we felt disrespected, hurt, falsely accused by the words that they were saying. Sometimes we find out that they never meant it that way. Sometimes we never find out, and we run around upset with someone who never meant to hurt us.
So what’s the deal? Why are we so misunderstood?
(Disclaimer:These thoughts are my opinions based on personal experience, so feel free to disagree. I just hope I’m not misunderstood. LOL)
- A big part of our problem is that we don’t truly listen to each other. You’ve heard it before: most people listen to just respond. This is especially true when we disagree with someone else about something. We’re so ready to defend our side that we’re not even paying attention to what the other person is really saying. Well, we are “listening”, but it’s just so we can find information to add to our ammunition so we’re able to fire off the best response, to hit them with our best shot. When I teach my students argumentative writing, their biggest problem is being prepared to address the counterargument. They have to take a step back from their side or opinion to thoughtfully consider why the other person may feel that his/her opinion is right. Otherwise, they never even take a moment to think that someone else might be right. We all need to learn to do this more often. Maybe that person does have a valid point? We won’t know unless we LISTEN.
- Another reason that we’re sometimes misunderstood is that we forget that we are all different; therefore, the way we express ourselves and the way we like to be spoken to are completely different. What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. I’ve been told that I am too sensitive, but in my opinion, some people are just too harsh. No, I don’t need you to sugarcoat everything for me, but I ask that you take my feelings into consideration when you say what you have to say. I try to be considerate in the way that I speak to others especially when what I have to say may not be what they want to hear. (Hey, I am all for being brutally honest when need be, but there are still tactful ways to do it.) Another example of this is when we say we were just “joking” with what we’re saying. Sometimes we just assume that someone else understands our humor while what you’ve said was highly offensive and hurtful to them. It’s not just what you say; it’s also how you say it.
- I’ve also discovered that being misunderstood comes from not fully assessing or understanding the situation. Let me give you an example. Have you ever gone into a restaurant and had a server be rude to you or basically ignore you? I know you have because I definitely have. Now I know that there are just some people who should never be in the customer service industry. (That’s a post for another day). I’m just saying that instead of always assuming the worst about them, maybe you should wonder if they’re just having a bad day or something really bad has happened in their life or someone was just extremely rude to them and ruined their day. How many times has someone just assumed something about you because you were having an off day or moment or maybe you were just really busy or distracted? It’s happened, right? Didn’t feel so good, did it? Sometimes we need to not jump to conclusions and try to fully assess the situation first. You never know how your smile or kind words may be what changes the entire atmosphere or conversation.
So where do we go from here?
While there may not be a magical way to stop people from misunderstanding our words and actions, we can only choose to be more cognizant with how we relate and communicate with one another. For every time you’ve been misunderstood, think of all of the times when you may have made a wrong assumption about someone else. Here are some idea I have to help us with our miscommunication.
- Listen with not just open ears, but with an open heart. Whether you’re the listener or the speaker, be an active participant who takes the other person’s feelings into account. Try to relate to what they’re saying and see things from their side as well.
- Don’t always assume the worst first. Unless the other person is a negative person who has a track record for purposely hurting others, don’t always assume the worst about what he/she has done or said. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Ask clarifying questions. When you’re listening, ask questions to make sure you fully understand the person’s words or actions. If you’re speaking, ask if the person fully understands you or needs you to clarify something for them. You may be surprised what someone assumed about what you said or how you misinterpreted something the other person said. This is especially important in this age of technology where a text is open to all sorts of interpretations. (Again, this is a post for another day).
- Repeat what was said. If you’re the listener, repeat back what you think you’ve heard. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “What I hear you saying is…” and giving the person a chance to set the record straight. If you’re the speaker, repeat or paraphrase what you said for better understanding. You can even ask for them to say it in their own words what they think you’ve said.
- Watch your tone of voice and yes, body language counts! As stated before, sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that can make all of the difference. Again, this works both ways. If you’re speaking, think about how the other person might be perceiving what you’re saying. Just like sending someone a message in all caps can be seen as yelling angrily at then when you all you meant was to just express excitement, “GET READY, NOW!” The way we say things to people can me misinterpreted if we use the wrong tone or body language. If you’re listening, you can always stop and ask yourself if you’re misunderstanding their tone or if that’s just the way he/she expresses him/herself. Don’t assume because the server didn’t spend much time at your table being friendly, that he/she is just rude. Maybe he/she just got a phone call about a sick child and his/her mind is racing with a plan to get that child picked up and to the doctor as soon as possible.
In my opinion, we all need to learn to be patient with one another and make sure we are doing our part to communicate clearly what it is we’re saying or how we are feeling. No, there’s not a perfect formula for it, but it wouldn’t hurt to try some (if not all) of these ideas. Too many of our problems come from miscommunication and misunderstandings. Too many relationships have ended because of this. I pray you keep these thoughts in mind every time you have a conversation or interaction with someone. I mean, what do you have to lose by trying?
What are some ways you think we can better communicate with one another? Comment below with your ideas!