So What You’re Really Saying Is . . .

Communication is interesting. What someone hears isn’t necessarily what someone else is saying.

A few years ago I called my friend Beth with some news. Here’s how the conversation went.

Me: You’re never gonna believe this. I have the most amazing news.
Beth: You’re pregnant.
Me: No. Why? Do you think I look fat and bloated? You think I look fat and bloated. [To The Furry Guy] Beth just called me fat and bloated.

Since she knew I was joking and I knew she hadn’t said (or meant) that, we enjoyed a good laugh together. I gave her a rough time about that for a few weeks until she took something I said and twisted it in the same way and we called it even.

The sad thing is that this kind of thing happens for real far too often. This is especially true of online conversations. One person says something. Another misinterprets the comment and becomes offended. Soon words are flying back and forth. If it’s on a social site of any kind others can become embroiled in the dispute. I’ve seen it happen time and again, and nine times out of ten it’s simply a misunderstanding.

There’s no inflection in the typed word. You can read a sentence any number of ways. Take the sentence, “That’s a brilliant remark.” It can express appreciation for a comment or imply that a comment is downright stupid. It all depends on the reader’s inference.

There’s a technique used in counseling where the listener repeats back to the speaker what the listener believes the speaker has said. It’s cumbersome at first, but it can be a really effective tool because you have to really listen, and you can see the areas in which you are misinterpreting what your partner is saying.

I was joking with my friend Beth, but I’ve seen friendships ruined over simple comments that were mischaracterized, misinterpreted, or misunderstood.

The next time you find yourself getting miffed at something someone says, ask yourself if it could mean something different than what you think you’re hearing. It could save a few hours of ill feelings.

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