Do you think misunderstandings in relationships are inevitable?
How do you handle them?
Here's what happens in a misunderstanding:
I think misunderstandings are inevitable.
- I say literally X,
- which in my mind carries the message Y,
- but in your mind you understand Z.
- Then there is some confusion and
controversy because Z and Y don't match up.
This is my theory of
misunderstandings and what to do about them.
Here's what I think is a fair way to handle it.
Misunderstandings are inevitable because language is
many-layered, and that means that what you literally say and what you
intend to communicate are usually, normally, perhaps even always,
quite different. This a basic result of linguistic science, so please
go read about Linguistic Pragmatics somewhere if you don't believe me;
try Yahoo, or search Google for Conversational Implicature.
- Any two people cannot have the same history and expectations
in any given situation, we are always different, and it's more a
miracle that we understand each other as successfully as we do, than
it is a tragedy that it doesn't always work out that way.
- It can can be very emotionally painful for one side or both sides
when a misunderstanding occurs, especially if an important
expectation is violated by the unintended message Z.
- The Buddha said that Desire is the Root of all Pain, and your
expectations can really torture you in the case of a misunderstanding.
So prepare to lighten up and be curious and explore, don't get all
upset just yet, it's probably a misunderstanding.
- Fourth, if it's a misunderstanding then it's not anyone's fault,
but both sides have participated, and both sides can learn something,
and if either side continues to blame the other for the
misunderstanding then that is No Fair. It's not their fault
that you don't understand what they meant, they expected that you
would or otherwise they would have said it another way. And it's not
your fault either, you didn't expect them to communicate that message
in that way.
Apply the Golden Rule. Does it feel the same when you're on the other
side? I think so.
- First, we talk and talk
- until I figure out that you understood Z
- until you figure out that I meant Y.
- Then we both learn something:
- I try to assimilate a
lesson from this experience, namely:
- that when I say something like X it is likely to lead to you
receiving a message like Z not a message like Y, and so..
- maybe I could consider another way of packaging my message so it
actually gets there.
- You try to assimilate a lesson from that:
that when I say something like X I mean something like Y
- maybe you could consider another way of understanding my
But if you'd rather focus on the part where your friend learns what
you were thinking and you get to teach your friend a lesson, and you
want to skip the part where you learn what they were thinking and
trying to say and where you assimilate a lesson, too, yourself, about
how to understand them, then, nothing personal, but that seems out of
balance. To me it seems selfish, domineering, and disrespectful, and
injures the relationship. You have to root out the mistrust by
honestly and respectfully engaging with your friend's real intention,
by letting that really count, because that is what they really meant.
If you insist on staying on your own side, you're just burning down
the bridge of connection between you and your friend.
Think about it. Just a thought.
Copyright © 2000-2004, Thomas
C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Modified: April 3, 2004