Written by Helen Springer – 13th February, 2013
Communication is the essence of making contact with other people yet the easiest way to be misunderstood.
Communication happens on two levels, the literal meaning of the words and the emotional response that the words evoke in the receiver. Then there is the body language that is shown at the time.
The receiver makes his/her assumptions about the meaning and intention behind the words.
The opportunity for misunderstandings is great. Mishearing and thus receiving the wrong message through reinterpretation can cause total breakdown in relationships.
Look what can happened when Bob asked Sue a simple question
“Sue, have you seen my pen?”
These are the literal and factual answers to the question. Bob will then act accordingly and no conflict will occur. If the answer is “Yes,” Bob will probably then ask “Where is it?”
“No I haven’t got it, why would I want your pen?”
Here Sue is responding to past experience of using Bob’s pen and not replacing it where Bob can find it.
Are you accusing me of taking your pen?
This response indicates that Sue is sensitive to being accused of stealing and takes a defensive position.
“Why don’t you look for it yourself, you are so lazy expecting me to do everything for you.
Sue reaction indicates her feelings about Bob being lazy and putting upon her.
You are so untidy and careless. You should keep it in the same place then you would not keep losing it.
Rather than answering the question Sue takes the opportunity to chastise Bob about what she believes is his untidiness and carelessness.
Yes it is on the kitchen table.
The straight forward and helpful answer to the question.
Answers 2 to 5 will almost certainly lead to conflict and argument will ensue. The extent to which this will escalate will depend on how each of them is feeling at the time and whether either want further argument usually about matter totally unconnected with the pen. Either of them could try to defuse the situation.
How often have you thought we are always bickering and we can never remember what it is about?
Communication takes place on the literal level and on the emotional level this affects both the sender and the receiver of the message.
To reduce conflict, answer the literal question without assuming any hidden meanings that the sender may have. If Bob was implying anything other than seeking to find his pen this will come out in subsequent questions.
If the answer implies other emotional states of the receiver Bob can attempt to defuse the situation by explaining that he was merely seeking to find the pen that he had misplaced and wondered if she had seen it in passing, thus making it clear that he had no hidden agenda.
The emotions that became evident from Sue’s answer will also need to be addressed.