“That’s Not What I Heard”

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“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.”  I mentioned last post that my number one goal in communication as a couple is understanding my wife, not proving my point.  Assumptions and having a predisposed opinion of what our spouse is thinking or going to say is a destroyer of good communication.  Sometimes we need to dig for the speaker’s intended meaning.

Let me tap into an illustration from our short story, The Artist and the Minstrel (also available in Amazon’s Kindle store for your smart phone or reading device), to highlight the need to understand as the speaker intended.

“It’s Friday evening.  Rhonda and I agree that we should spend our Saturday working on the landscaping.  The flower beds need to be weeded, raked out, and have a general good clean up.  Saturday morning arrives.  The artist sees the finished project in her mind and knows the diligence it will take to get there, so she is early out in the garage gathering the tools.  The minstrel decides to sleep a little later.  After all, he has been going against his nature all week rising early for the drive to work and enjoys the little extra sleep.  When he does get up, the minstrel decides to make pancakes for breakfast, something he thinks everyone will enjoy on a Saturday morning.  He can’t understand the artist’s frustration when he tries to deliver her some pancakes in the back yard.  He thought he was doing her a favor.”

“Before going out to join his wife, the minstrel gets a call that one of the kids who was at an overnighter needs to be picked up.  He runs the errand and on the way home remembers he was going to get a haircut today.  So he drops junior off and goes back to the barber shop.  After looking for some lunch, playing a game with one of the kids, and checking the college football scores, the minstrel emerges from the house ready to join the artist in her work.  For some reason the artist blows up and the afternoon’s work is done in silence.  Why is the artist never happy?”

“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.  When Rhonda suggested we work in the yard tomorrow, she was saying, ‘Let’s focus on the landscaping tomorrow.  That means we rise early, work diligently, and make it the number one goal above all others until the job is complete.’  What I heard her say was, ‘Tomorrow, when we have some free time, when we are not doing anything else, let’s go outside and work on the landscaping.’  The listener did not understand the words of the speaker as they were intended to be understood.”

Now granted, the listener may have been motivated by stubbornness or laziness and just didn’t want to hear, or allowed his personality bent to interfere with hearing, but that discussion is for another time.  As you seek to improve your marriage communication, remember this, “Good communication only happens when the listener understands the speaker in the way the speaker intended to be understood.”  Communicate for understanding.  Ask clarifying questions for understanding, not to prove your knowledge.  Then your conversation will contribute to your oneness instead of being a wedge that drives you apart.

3 Comments

  • William Brown

    Have you been talking to my wife? That sounds like us! Great example on communication. I appreciate the posts, even though I don’t comment very often.

    • Rhonda Lehman

      Yes, and on the wife’s side of things, I had to stop expecting Jay to read my thoughts and needed to extend the conversation on “we going to focus on the yard cleanup” until we each understood the decision the same way. We always want our husband’s to “just know” what we meant! Not good!

  • Mark

    Great post, Jay. This is such a key point in truly good mutual communication (that I doubt I’ll ever master).

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