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Learning their language

Maybe it's all just miscommunication

How often do you feel misunderstood? How often does someone say something that hurts you? How often does someone not meet your expectations? How often does someone break an agreement with you? 

A German/American couple

One time at a party I was talking with a German lady who was involved with an American man. I asked her, "Because of your different backgrounds and languages do you ever find it hard to get along?" She replied, "Actually, I think it's easier for us because, if we ever seem to have a problem, we just assume it must be a result of the language difference and we're able to work it out."

Our toxic assumptions

This lady and her partner went automatically to the conclusion that it must be a miscommunication because of their language differences that was causing the problem, rather than jump right into the blame "solution." 

But for those of us who speak the "same" language, be it English, Chinese, Spanish, or whatever, we easily assume we know what the other person means by the words that they use and consequently fall into the trap of either blaming them or blaming ourselves.

A new approach: getting curious about the discrepancies

Consider these possibilities.

Talking with my friend on the phone, he said, "I've got another call coming in. I'll be back in less than 30 seconds." Two minutes and 12 seconds later, my friend returned to our call, making no mention of the delay. According to my understanding of what "30 seconds" meant, I said to him lightly, "I'm happy we can continue talking now. But I'm curious to learn more about a possible miscommunication we may be having, not only this time, but it seems like there were a few times before. I'd like your feedback. You said you'd be back in less than 30 seconds. My timer counted out two minutes and 12 seconds. Maybe I need to re-calibrate my timer?! What do you think?"

Talking with a client, they promised me, "I'll get that payment to you by PayPal before the end of the day." I replied to her, "That's great. Thank you. But there is something I need your help with. I could be wrong, but there seems to be a difference in what I mean when I say I will do something for someone else and what you mean. If so, I want to be able to use your meaning instead of my own when talking with you. May I explain?" She replied with, "Sure." Ensuring that my tone of voice was light and matter-of-fact, I said, "Whenever I tell someone that I will do something for them, my overall reliability rate is over 95%. And, even in those occasions where, for whatever reasons, I would not or could not do as I said I would do, I will contact that person beforehand and let them know that I am canceling or changing my promise. It seems that you may have a different meaning when you say you will do something for me than I would have if I said that you could rely on me for something. How should I adjust my listening so that my understanding of your words of what I can rely on from you is more likely to match your actions?"

My friend is angry with me for not realizing how important something was to her. She almost shouts, "I can't believe you didn't know how important that was for me!" I pause for a moment and reply, "That's obviously true. Since I am surprised by how my behavior has hurt you, it makes sense that I may need to adjust my understanding of how you see the world and see me and see our relationship so that it's less likely for that to happen again. I'm really sorry that you felt hurt. Can you help me to understanding what thought or belief about my behavior stimulated you to feel hurt?"

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