I don’t think that means what you think it means

I’ve watched enough romantic comedies to know that at the heart of almost every conflict is miscommunication. Unlike half of the things in romantic comedies it’s something that also happens in real life.

man and woman wearing brown leather jacketsI hate stock photos so I decided to start using the most dramatic ones.

Have you ever been sitting in a room listening to people talking to each other and realized they aren’t talking about the same thing? It happens all the time. In meetings, on projects, in personal relationships. We think the words we use have concrete meanings, but they don’t mean the same thing to everyone.

We bring our own meaning and context to words based on our backgrounds. The more I write the more I realize that words carry so much more meaning than we can possibly know. Words evolve over time. There are words we can’t use anymore, there are words we never should have used, and there are words that used to be bad but are now mainstream. There are words we grow up thinking have a different meaning than they actually have.

There are words only certain people can say and there are words that just mean different things in different contexts. A perfect example of this was me getting annoyed that a coworker referred to me as the “Brand Voice Gal” because, ugh, rude, but at the exact same time I was making extensive Galentine’s plans.

Sometimes people mishear each other or otherwise misunderstand. I’ve been in meetings and said something that was directed at one person, but someone else thought it was directed at them. I’ve misread texts, even after reading them multiple times. There’s a smiley face emoji that I swear is smug and condescending, but other people think it’s the perfect punctuation for when you’re asking for something but don’t want to seem demanding.

It’s this one 🙂, look at that smug face.

Then there is hearing things out of context or just parts of conversations. It happens time and time again in headlines. When we see a questionable headline we should dig into the rest of the article or beyond an article. And we should do the same with people.

Words are powerful, they can do a lot of damage, and we can’t control what they do after they leave our mouth. We should do whatever we can to be aware of the impact the words we’re using have. We should look at cultural significance and consider other people’s backgrounds as much as possible.

But ultimately, we can never communicate perfectly, our very language prohibits it. So when we’re on the listening side, the best thing we can do is clarify what someone meant.

If we really want to love and understand people, or even just be able to work with them better, we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

Continue the conversation instead of storming off to rehash their words in your mind over and over until you’ve analyzed them to death. Try asking “Why?” or any other number of clarifying questions. Why did you say that? What did you mean by ______? Once we understand the why of it all the conversation can continue and communication remains open and productive.

And on the other hand, speak clearly and kindly as possible, because you don’t always get a chance to explain yourself.

Communication is the key to success in relationships and it’s only through building relationships that we truly grow.

Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels.com.

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