She is a stay-at-home mom, and her partner has his own business. He works A LOT, leaving her without much time for herself because in addition to taking care of her two children, she pretty much does all the work around the house.
The other day she told her partner that she wanted more time for herself. More time to relax. More time to exercise and do yoga. More time to think about what she wanted to do once her youngest was in school. (And to note, I wasn’t there, so this is her account of what she said.)
What he heard was, “I want to leave you.”
If you are wondering how that jump was made, you aren’t alone, I asked myself the same question.
Unfortunately, that is something that happens in communication. We say one thing and the other person hears something completely different. It’s because the words pass quickly through our personal filter, composed of past experiences, fears, etc, and then we interpret the words and make meaning from it. In the coaching world we call that story-telling.
Here are some ways to create more clarity and avoid these kinds of situations:
1) SAY I, NOT YOU.
If you have ever been in this situation yourself, you may have reacted by saying, “You didn’t hear me correctly,” and then repeat what you said again with a bit more force. Unfortunately, when you make it about them not hearing you, the result is often defensiveness.
Instead you can say “I don’t think that I expressed myself clearly. Can I try again?” When you approach it this way, you take responsibility for the communication breakdown, and give them a choice in wanting to hear it again.
2) ASK THEM TO BE A PARROT
There are often situations when you say something, and the other person hears something different, but they don’t actually tell you what they heard. The make meaning, but you have no idea what that meaning is.
If you are worried that this is happening in your communication, you can pause in your discourse and ask the other person what they heard. It might sound something like, “I want to ensure that I am expressing myself clearly. Can you repeat back to me what you have heard so far?” This allows you to check in and ensure that there hasn’t been a case of I SAID--THEY HEARD. If the communication lines have been crossed, you can defer to option one.
3) OPEN YOUR EARS AND HEART
There are times when it might be your best option to drop your ideas for a moment and be with the other person.
In the example I gave above, the woman could have temporarily let go of her ideas about wanting time for herself, to fully understand her partner and what is going on for him. She could have said, “It sounds like you are afraid that I am no longer happy being with you, is that true?”
Then based in his response, she could have continued along this same tract of reading between lines of what he said, and guessing at his feelings and needs. It is very important to GUESS, as when we make incorrect assumptions without checking in, it can lead to further communication breakdowns.
Have you had a recent experience of I SAID-THEY HEARD? Would any of these three options have been useful for you?
Creating clearer communication,
P.S. If you are deep in the throes of a communication or relationship breakdown at home or at work, don’t hesitate to reach out. There is no cost and no obligation. www.thrivewithin.com/discovery