To be perfectly trite: Communication is a two-way street. Now, to be less trite, interpersonal communication involves two or more people who wish to convey information/emotions/empathy/knowledge/etc. One person may be the source and the other may be the recipient. Or both at the same time.
Seppo and I were talking in the car yesterday about communication and when it goes awry. Communication is one of the social contracts that we make with others. The contract says, “I will strive to make myself as clear as I can in a way that you can understand with hopes that you will understand me. You will ask me questions in areas that you are unclear about in order to understand me until we are clear. This doesn’t mean we need to agree, just understand at least the position of the other person. Our roles will switch throughout our conversation, but we will both work as hard as possible to make this comprehension happen.”
There are misunderstandings and frustrations when one feels that the other is not upholding their side of the communication bargain by not trying hard enough to understand; jumping to the wrong conclusions; jumping on the non-salient points of the conversation; etc. When this happens, instead of getting frustrated, we should uphold our part of the social contract by examining ourselves to see if we have been absolutely clear in the way that the particular listener will understand. It is possible that the other person is also not upholding their end of the contract, but merely pointing that out doesn’t solve the problem.
By seeing communication and conflicts as team efforts to come to agreement/understanding, rather than getting annoyed at someone for not understanding you (which I’m extremely guilty of, as Seppo knows), it is possible to progress beyond, “That’s not what I said!” and “Oh yes, it is!” to something much better.
I think we talked about this in context of coworkers who don’t understand social cues and parents who have a difficult time seeing their adult children as adults.
When you think someone doesn’t understand you, instead of thinking to yourself, “Any buffoon in the universe would understand what obviously just happened and why I feel this way; why can’t he/she?!” which does not help you at all, try to realize that something in the communication failed and that you may not be doing your best to let the other person know what is going on inside your head. And if you don’t know, how did you expect the other person to figure it out?! 😀
Keeping track of who’s right and who’s wrong in a conversation is ok in many instances, especially if that is the point of the conversation, as in a factual debate. Not everything has to be touchy-feely. But in a committed relationship, there is nothing to be gained by always angling for the upper hand. You only win if you both win. /cheesy counselor voice.
This entry was brought to you by the Committee to Stop Passive-Aggressiveness, a.k.a. The Group That Thinks You Should Already Have Known What It Stands For, I Don’t Know What’s The Matter With You.