Monday, October 20, 2014

Communication Breakdown

You know that moment in conversation when you completely understand what the other person is saying, they challenge you in some way and you are prepared with the perfect rebuttal?

No, me either.

You know that moment in a conversation where you are caught off guard, not sure if the person you are talking with intentionally said something insulting, accidentally insulting, or if you misunderstood them completely? And while your brain is floundering, having one of those, “Wait, what?” moments, it has also begun composing a defense, and you either spew it awkwardly forth immediately or you hesitate and meekly murmur something noncommittal when it no longer matters and then you feel icky afterward because you still aren’t sure what happened, but you’re pretty sure you didn’t handle it remotely suavely. That moment?

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

I admit I get way too hung up on these things. I used to be worse about it, but I still dwell on such things for hours, even days. I like to think it’s a good part of my character, my meditative, thoughtful, sensitive nature, but it’s probably more likely a paranoid delusional streak.

So, recently I’ve been wondering about the comments of a friend of mine, comments about my children and about my parenting. I finally had to acknowledge that I was feeling rather insulted and hurt, as is so easy to do when it comes to our children. At first I was angry. I shed a few tears, even. How could he say these things? And what right does he have? He doesn’t even have kids. How could he misunderstand our family so? I thought he loved us.

Then I simmered down. I know he loves us and would probably be mortified to know I shed tears over his comments. I’m sure he didn’t intend to offend and that led me to considering why he said what he did.

It’s important to think about these things. Not to torment ourselves, but to become better communicators, better people, and enjoy better relationships.

Why would someone say something hurtful? I came up with the following reasons:
  1. They said it intentionally to hurt you because—
              a. they are threatened by you. “Hurting people hurt people,” I’ve often heard and always found to be true. This is more about them than about you. 

              b. you are too dense to hear them when they try to tell you gently.

Neither necessarily means they don’t care about you.

        2. They unintentionally hurt you with their words because—
             a. they are a bumbling idiot who doesn’t care.
             b. they are a bumbling idiot who does care.
             c. you are a bumbling idiot and misunderstood them.
             d. you are way too sensitive.
             e. subconsciously they are unsatisfied somehow within themselves and it makes them feel better to “fix” others.

Or some combination of the above. And maybe other options for different situations. I dunno. I’m not a psychologist for crying out loud. Or for wimpering quietly.

The point is, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and the shortest jump is often a self-centered one. Take the time to think it through and consider that there may be more behind the conversation. Can you talk (kindly and reasonably) with your friend? Can you come to a better understanding together? Don’t hold on to pain and negativity. Work things out. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, maybe there is something you actually need to hear that does kinda hit you in your breadbasket and your friend was good enough to approach you with it. Maybe it wasn’t with the grace and sensitivity you would have liked. You may be able to talk it out and see your relationship grow.

But be ready to let it go, because it may also have been nothing at all. Maybe you're making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe it doesn't even need discussion, just perspective, and a little contemplation and honesty with yourself will get you there.

Just something to think about. In my case I've decided my best approach is to wait for my friend to mention it again. I've thought it through and considered where my friend is coming from. I now have confidence in my position. Instead of being caught off guard I will be able to engage more intelligently (or at least intelligibly). I'm kind of looking forward to it.

Maybe I think too much. But I'll tell ya one thing: I enjoy many rich relationships.

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