Saturday, June 24, 2017

Communication issues

Communicating is a very tricky business.

We understand that cell phones have bad reception sometimes, and computers go down.  These make for breakdowns in communication.  We do not always understand that two people can be standing face-to-face, speaking to each other, and still have a breakdown in communication.

Here's the deal:  communications are multilayered.  I'm sure I'm actually oversimplifying here, but I think there are three important layers to understand in communications.

First, there is what you are trying to communicate, the thoughts and feelings in your own mind.

Second, there is what you actually do communicate, the specific words you speak.

Third, there is what the person hears and understands you to say, the other person's interpretation.

If you are able to find good words that appropriately express what is in your head and heart, and the person with whom you are trying to communicate hears your words and interprets them to mean what you meant them to mean, then communication is going pretty well (although you could still disagree).  However, this is not always (or perhaps even often) the way it works out.

Remember that in any event, what you take away and what the other person (or people) take away from any given interaction could be quite different.  This is not because one person is right and one is wrong, or because one person is crazy and one is sane.  It's just that every individual is most in tune with his or her own perspective, and (therefore) every individual is convinced that he or she is the one who is right.

Don't be stuck in your own head, insisting on your own perspective.  It doesn't matter, and it doesn't help.  The important thing is to arrive at a place where you and the other person have a mutually understood experience.

*Ask clarifying questions!  "This is what I hear you saying. . .(restate what you think you heard).   Is this accurate?"  Please, do not assume that your "hearing" is accurate; don't ask this question sarcastically or in order to trap someone.  Ask honestly.  Give the benefit of the doubt.  Also, remember that it doesn't only depend on your personal hearing/interpretation.  The other person may have been clumsy in articulating what was in his/her heart to say.  Don't insist on clinging to the exact words the other person said, taking offense, and refusing to dig deeper to discover what he/she really meant.  Especially when people are upset, their words often do not come out right.  Graciously assume the best, and ask clarifying questions.

*Make a conscious effort to try to imagine what the other person is thinking and feeling.  Stop and think through his/her perspective of the situation.  Really.  Take the time to do this.  This is an example of how not to be selfish.  If this is going to take you some time, say, "I need to think through this by myself for a few minutes. I need to try to think through things from your perspective.  Can we take a break by ourselves for fifteen minutes, and then come back together to continue this discussion?"  This can diffuse a lot of trouble.  First, a break is good.  However, just storming off on your own for a break is not good.  So talking about the break, and setting a time to reconvene, is very respectful and helpful. Additionally, you can make the other person feel much more hopeful and much less defensive if you actually communicate that you are intentionally taking time to think through the issue from his/her point of view, instead of just assuming that he/she is wrong, and tearing him/her down.  Be sure you really do consider the opposing point of view, and don't just say you're going to, while actually focusing on crafting your own argument.  You should also pray during your break, that God will show you truth, and help you communicate with love.

*Remember that "winning" isn't winning.  Humiliating the other person in order to come out on top in an argument will not do good things for any relationship.  If you have "won" arguments in the past, you know this is true.  True winning is when you both finish with a better understanding of the other person's perspective, and you both feel respected, understood and cared about.  It is hard to say that you're sorry if you think it means that the other person will rub your nose in it afterwards.  However, even if you will get a nose-rub, it's still better to apologize.  If you do something wrong or unkind and get away with it, that's a "cheat," and it won't bear good fruit in your relationship.  Ask yourself: Am I being respectful?  Am I being kind?  Am I being honest?  Ask yourself these questions no matter which side of the argument you are on.  If you are the one who receives an apology, accept it with humility and grace, and assure the other person of your love and acceptance.  A true win is when both parties make progress in expressing and receiving love and respect from each other.  A true win comes from patience, honesty, unselfishness, humility, kindness and forgiveness. . . which amazingly culminate in joy.


Gloria H. said...

Great points, Ruth! Thanks for taking the time to communicate this wisdom so well. I like the idea of asking for time to go apart to think and pray it through before continuing the discussion. Of course this could backfire, if the other party is unwilling or offended by the request. But we can only be responsible for our own attitude and response.

Ruthie said...

Right, we can only be responsible for our own attitude and response. Yet, I am learning more and more that this is never an excuse for quitting the process, as in when we are tempted to think, "I've done the right thing. The other person responded badly. It's off my shoulders and I can go work on something else now." If it is a permanent relationship, such as a family relationship, a relationship that (by definition of and in respect for the type of relationship) deserves to be salvaged, we need to be willing to try as hard as possible to get inside the other person's head, and have compassion for the other person's viewpoint. "Compassion for" is not the same as "acceptance of." You can be compassionate while disagreeing. However, if you start from a foundation of compassion, you will be able to disagree more kindly. In an argument, you pretty much categorically never win anyone over to your side by being unkind.

I wish I'd outlined the other side of the three layers of communication, above, because it's important always to be considering both points of view:

1) There's what you meant to say--
(conversely, what the person speaking to you meant to communicate)
2) There's what you actually said--
(conversely, the words the person spoke to you in an attempt to express him/herself)
3) There's what the person you were speaking to understood you to say--
(conversely, understand that you are interpreting what you heard someone say, and you may need to ask clarifying questions to determine whether your interpretation is accurate)

It is such a pity and a shame when people decide to take offense at particular words and proceed to insist, "But you SAID. . ." regardless of another person's attempts to clarify his/her meaning. When we decide to take offense because of our own rigid interpretation of what someone said, we can do a lot of damage to a relationship, and we are not growing in humility or grace.