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“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

― George Bernard Shaw

A recent fight has left me thinking about how much simple misunderstandings can cause situations to escalate in unwanted, unexpected, and unnecessary ways.

Even as I say that, I realize that I’ve left a lot of room for misunderstanding. Was that intentional? Whatever I say to that point, you’re going to have your own conclusions that I can only minimally influence. Some of you are waiting for me to explain. Others are already clear on what I’m saying. Those who are clear are somewhere on the spectrum between right and wrong.

Isn’t this fun?

I don’t like to be misunderstood. I don’t like to be dismissed. I don’t like it when people make assumptions about me. I don’t like the phrase “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.”

I’ve often said that good communication relies on three factors. Of course my words and my tone are going to carry a lot of weight. The thing is that how you interpret those is just as important. I’m not trying to put your interpretation entirely on you but I’m not going to let you off the hook either.

At the beginning, I mentioned a recent fight. Did you know what I meant by “recent” or “fight?” Your interpretation of these words framed the rest of the sentence. There’s a potential misunderstanding right there.

We all have ideas about what certain words mean. The problem is that most of us aren’t deferring to a standard dictionary definition when we’re having a conversation — especially if that conversation is heated!

When I hear something, I can’t help but default to the idea that familiar words can be safely interpreted according to the way I’ve seen them defined or how I would choose to use them. Too often, though, I miss the point of what I’m hearing because another person uses a word differently, or is working off of a different dictionary definition, cultural context, or something else.

I hate it when it’s done to me, yet I involuntarily do it to other people sometimes too! I hate that. I really do.

When I’m feeling calm, it’s really easy to ask someone a question like “what do you mean by that?” I see the frustration it causes but I think that this frustration is preferable to what happens when I don’t make this effort to understand.

I guess if there’s a point to all of this, it’s that I’m going to try to do a better job of understanding the people I communicate with. I hope that they appreciate the effort. More than that, I hope they make the same effort with me.

I’m tired of the misunderstanding. I’m tired of assumptions. I’m just tired of arguing when we could be enjoying the simple pleasure of knowing each other.

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