Hey! That’s not what I meant

dusty road with boots

Have you ever found yourself either mystified or frustrated when what you say gets interpreted in ways that make it seem as if you are speaking an unrecognizable language?

The truth is, you might be!

Miscommunication can send you down a long and dusty road

We make assumptions all the time about how others see the world. Sometimes we take for granted that their world view is the same as ours. Sometimes, we even use vague communication to create the wedge of ‘differentness’ to keep people at a safe distance. That one is usually unconscious, and can be a huge block to intimacy and belonging. More often than not, we resist saying what we really mean because we want to avoid conflict.

What’s that about?

Behavior scientists call these bad habits of communication, The Abilene Paradox. It’s based on a parable by Dr. Jerry B. Harvey about a family who take a trip to some pretty frustrating places, simply because no one was willing to say what they really meant.

After the disastrous, 104 mile journey one person sarcastically snorted, “It was a great trip wasn’t it.” To which the others replied:

  • To tell the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much. I wouldn’t have gone at all if you hadn’t pressured me into it.
  • I didn’t pressure you. I was happy here. I only went because you all wanted to go.
  • You were the ones who wanted to go. I just wanted to make you happy.
  • I never wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you might be bored sitting at home with the rest of us.

I’ve seen this kind of buried meaning crop up in nearly every relationship I have observed. In fact, I would be amazed if you didn’t recognize at least one of those comments as something you have said.

What is the solution?

  • Identify the common communication tools that consistently cause aggravation,
  • Recognize that they are habits of thought that can be changed,
  • Then do what it takes to change them!

To be honest, it’s really tough to uncover your verbal tools on your own. Look for instances where you say ‘always, never, I knew it, you people, I always say, you just don’t understand.’

(I love how Stephen Covey says in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “You don’t understand” actually means “You aren’t doing what I want you to do.” )

If you’d like some help figuring out how your communication is getting skewed, give me a call. (866.821.9386, or drop me an email)

Helping you get what you want, through what you say, is my specialty!

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