Have you ever heard people say that there are always three messages whenever you say something?
First, there are the actual words that are being spoken.
Then, there is what the speaker intended the listener to hear.
And finally, there is the message that the listener hears.
I talk about this concept a lot whenever I work couples and families. A silly example that I use a lot is the phrase, “Can you grab me a glass of water?”
Understanding the actual words is simple: an action is being requested by one person from another. But so often, something like “Can you grab me a glass of water,” really means: “Hey – do you care enough about me to grab me a water?”
And then the listener hears a completely different third message, like: “Why are you always nagging me?!”
Both people heard the same words, but the truth of the message was completely different for each of them.
Confusion happens all of the time because of assumptions we make about what other people mean. We each have a uniquely subjective experience of the world, so it’s not surprising that the ways in which we communicate are as varied as we are. For example, how do we compare different experiences of what is ‘hard’ or ‘easy’? Or how can we measure our own experiences of joy, terror, delight, and devastation against those of another person? If we want to understand and to be understood, we can’t simply transfer our definitions onto what people are trying to express.
So, are you a good communicator?
How well do you listen? How curious are you when you aren’t quite sure what another person is saying?
Do you believe the experience of other people when they share with you, or are you skeptical that things are really “that bad.”
When you start a conversation, are you thinking of what to say, or are you actively listening?
What about with your partner? With your kids?
I want to urge you to believe other people.
Believe your kids.
Believe your partner.
Your dramatic friend.
That person in your church that you don’t get along with.
The family member on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
Believing someone does not equate to agreeing with them. You don’t even have to like someone to believe them. The truth is, we all just want our experiences to be validated, heard, and believed. I imagine it’s what you want too. But if we get caught up in who is right or who is wrong, we lose the opportunity for connection.
There’s another common saying about interpersonal conflict that really gets to the heart of this: whenever one person wins, you both lose. When we dismiss another person’s truth and invalidate their experience of the world, we create disconnect. It takes bravery to set yourself aside and enter into another person’s experience of the world, but there is nothing that makes another person feel more seen and loved.
So be brave.
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