Misunderstandings and What They Say about Us
Misunderstandings happen in the most loving relationships. They usually begin with misinterpretations of what is said and the meaning that is intended. No evil intention is necessary.
Given our human imperfections, especially in our communication skills, they are likely to happen again and again; therefore, it makes sense to learn from them. That way, we improve our understanding of ourselves and others if and when they occur.
Misinterpretation: An Illustration
The four year old girl was playing with her red beach ball. She threw it against the brick fence then ran to pick it up and throw it again. In the past weeks, she had done the same thing without any problem, but today the ball was not cooperating, she thought. Every time she bent down to pick it up, she felt a pain in her side. She blamed the ball for making her bend over, and for the pain which followed that action. She decided to leave the ball where it was on the ground. That night, she had emergency surgery to remove an inflamed appendix.
- Her side hurt.
- The ball caused her to bend over
- Bending over caused the pain
- The pain must have originated with the ball.
The Correct Interpretation
- Her internal organ was inflamed (something a child may not understand)
- Bending over for the ball aggravated the situation
- The pain had an internal origin.
It is the nature of children and other inexperienced individuals to misinterpret the facts. With reference to this episode, this article will illustrate how misinterpretation of a fact can create major misunderstandings in a discussion. Knowing how they are created could heighten our awareness of our contribution; it could also help us understand and sympathize with others who contribute unintentionally. In addition, misunderstandings say that individuals are usually guilty of one or more of the following five imperfections.
(1) Faulty Assumptions
In this incident the child made a faulty assumption, for which we can cite a good excuse: she was a child, did not understand the cause of pain, probably never heard of an appendix. Similarly, adults make assumptions which are excusable based on their limited knowledge, or misinterpretation of the knowledge, among other reasons. The problem with faulty assumptions in a discussion is that the person making them expects everyone to receive them as fact. On the other hand, listeners find it difficult to hear the faulty assumption without labeling the speaker as foolish, or conceited. Even the character comes under scrutiny, and a major misunderstanding concerning “Who do you think you are?” can occur when the only mishap is a misinterpretation.
(2) Misplaced Focus
From the start, the little girl focused on the ball as the culprit. Generally, it is easier for individuals to select something outside them, rather than something within them, as the cause of the problem. It is a kind of defense mechanism to protect one’ self from facing reality. For example, in a discussion the individual sooner blames the other person’s tone of voice than his or her own guilt feelings aroused by the words; or focus on the wrong use of a word rather than admit resentment for the person speaking. The tendency is to ignore or cover up selfish peeves while identifying attributes in the other person as the triggers for the misunderstanding.
(3) Inflated Ego
The little girl would be surprised to learn that a ten year old boy who never experienced pain while playing with a ball (the way she did) could understand and explain the situation better than she could. That childish mentality rears its silly head in grownups who overestimate their opinions. They list reasons to prove that their perspectives are unique and above challenge. They take it personally when someone else establishes similar authority. Sense of self, self-image, self-esteem is challenged. At that point, the primary desire is to save face, which is easily done by declaring how difficult it is to be understood, and consequently walking away.
Without learning the correct interpretation of her situation, that little girl could grow up with an intense dislike for red beach balls. She might develop such hatred that she becomes prejudiced against anyone who owns one. Whereas an assumption expects everyone to believe, prejudice goes further and condemns everyone who does not. Discussion on religious, political or cultural differences sometimes cause misunderstandings (quarrels, falling out) among friends. The notion that a personal belief is the only right one is another major cause for misunderstandings. It does not take into consideration that people with different beliefs can be as happy or as moral. It creates a false sense of superiority.
(5) Poor Listening Skills
This may be the simplest, but not in any way less responsible for misunderstandings. Imagine the young girl relating her experience to someone who interrupts with a tale of his or her personal surgery, or who keeps asking for time out to take a phone call, or whose body language and facial expressions suggest disinterest. The listener will likely miss key points of the story and make irrelevant observations. The ensuing conversation will run on different frequencies and ideas will not connect. This could be the kind of conversation in which both conclude, “He wasn’t making sense,” or “All she did was confuse me.”
Lessening the Impact
The sooner we recognize them, the easier it becomes to lessen the impact of misunderstandings in relationships—love, business or other. Here are a few suggestions, beginning with the reverse of what causes them. Practice as often as possible.
- Develop proper listening skills.
- Make the effort to curb prejudice in attitude and words.
- Back away from the notion that you are the most qualified ever.
- Establish focus and maintain it.
- Accept that your assumption could be faulty.
- Realize that you cause your own feelings. “I feel” instead of “You make me feel.”
- Avoid stern countenances; smile when appropriate.
- Consider the interests of others.
- Ask questions to help clarify the message.
- Confess error when necessary; give and accept forgiveness.
© 2013 Dora Isaac Weithers
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