Monday, June 27, 2011

What You See

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." I saw this yesterday in the form of a painting on the wall, and I was intrigued by it. This weekend, Jason and I had a discussion about something that happened between us, and I was amazed that his version of what he meant and my version of what I heard were light years apart.

So much of our human communication is like that. We all speak, knowing exactly what we mean, but by the time the other person filters it through their grid, it ends up as different as a child's game of telephone. Words have specific meanings to each of us, in the context of our families of origin and our workplaces and other various filters, and we simply cannot assume that someone else means the same thing as we do when we open our mouths to have a conversation.

I'm reminded again of the importance of clarification in any kind of discussion. It's not fair to believe we know what the other person means, especially when the stakes are high (i.e. in marriage, when you end up resentful and that atmosphere spreads like a disease in your household, affecting everyone in its path). Taking a little extra time to ask, "What did you mean by that?" can make all of the difference in the temperature of the relationship.

I wish it hadn't taken me so long to learn this. Jason used to tiptoe around me when I was angry about something, and I don't want that anymore. I want us to have equal participation in the communication portion of our relationship, but that means we must often clarify what the other person is actually meaning. What we think it means is not the same as what the other person means.

Differences between the sexes is a factor here, but even with friends this miscommunication is a common issue. It only takes a few minutes more to ask for clarification. The key is to keep the heated emotion out of it as much as possible. This is easier said than done. I've been ready to fire my gun more times than I can count, when the other person wasn't actually attacking me.

When we start to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our significant relationships, this clarification process is an important relationship skill to learn. I'm still fumbling my way through it, as a person does in a power outage in the dead of night with your fingers outstretched hoping to find a flashlight and avoid bumping your shins on the furniture.

It's not pretty to watch, but I want to learn how to communicate clearly first, and defend or attack second. Often the first will negate the second, but we have to be willing to set aside our specific point of view in order to look at it from another perspective, and that can be a challenging thing to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment