“It smells like ass right here. Why is it that every time I walk by this spot I smell ass?”
That’s what we heard from our sweet, little 10-year-old girl.
Three of us were in the kitchen, and we heard her saying these things to us from upstairs.
At least that’s what we thought we heard.
We paused and looked at each other with a dumbfounded look on our faces.
And then we just erupted with laughter!
We called her downstairs and found out that she was actually saying, “It smells like AXE right here.”
In case you didn’t know, “Axe” is a body spray that a couple of the guys in our house use. Now, THAT makes more sense!
These kinds of misunderstandings happen every day, don’t they?
In fact, while writing this post, I went to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. My youngest son asked me what time it was. Trying to be funny, I replied, “Time for you to get a watch,” and smiled. His face dropped, and with a strange look on his face, he said, “But I took a shower yesterday.”
Apparently, he thought that I had just told him that it was time for him to get a “wash”. Never mind the fact that we never say “get a wash” when referring to a shower. It’s what he thought he heard.
You probably have several examples of these kinds of misunderstandings that you could share with us. They are the kinds of experiences that make you ask yourself, “What is happening?”
Many times, they can be fun! These kinds of communication blunders bring lots of laughter.
But, sometimes, they can cause some pretty serious drama. If we’re not careful, we can make bad decisions based on faulty information caused by simple misunderstandings. When someone says something that has the potential to cause drama or hurt feelings, there are some things you can do to help reduce the friction.
Here are a couple of ideas on dealing with potential misunderstandings:
Give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove they don’t deserve it.
Life is so much less stressful when we assume the best in people. When we give the person the benefit of the doubt, we assume that there is a logical explanation for what just happened. When they say something that sounds negative or spiteful, we assume that their intent was not devious. We assume that there is more to the story than what we’ve heard so far. Which leads us to the second idea…
Don’t respond immediately.
In these situations, it’s super important that we don’t let our emotions cause us to say something we’ll regret. That’s why it’s usually best to avoid answering immediately. Because we assume there’s more to the story, we know we have to investigate. We take the time to think about the other possible meanings of what they just said. We pause long enough to put ourselves in their shoes and think about it from their perspective. Sometimes, it becomes clear very quickly. Other times, not so much! The good news is that we can go a step further and…
Ask for clarification.
When you’re not sure what they meant, ask them! It doesn’t have to remain a mystery. This is one of the essential skills of healthy communication: the ability to summarize and ask for clarification. You don’t have to be a mind reader. You just need to let them tell you what they meant.
You might say something like, “I think I hear you saying ______. Is that correct?” And don’t play word games. Don’t press them in a corner because of a particular choice of words. Allow them the opportunity to adjust their statements and better say what they feel. This way, there’s no doubt about what’s being communicated.
Respond to what they meant, not what you thought you heard.
Once you’ve figured out what they were REALLY trying to say, respond accordingly. Laugh about the misunderstanding, then move on. Don’t let a misstatement harm your relationship. Don’t let your pride or negative emotions poison the rest of your interactions.
Life has enough drama as it is. There’s no need to create more!
How about you?
What are some of the funny and/or serious misunderstandings that you’ve experienced?
What would you add to this list of things to consider when you encounter them?
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