What Did You Say
By: Faith Pearce
(4 min read)
This week I have been thinking about communication. It is such a broad topic. There are fundamentally so many different ways that we communicate through our body language, behavior, the written word, or spoken word. Through actions and through lack of them. A simple touch or hug can say so much.
Communication is the backbone of everything we do. If we don’t communicate effectively, it causes frustrations, miscommunications, and disengagement.
Over the last two years, we have all had to adapt and communicate in different ways. I, for sure, have learned that talking behind a device is no substitute for talking in person. And although things have improved, it has highlighted that communication is always an area to continue to develop and grow. People not only communicate in a variety of ways, we all understand that communication differently. Does a hug mean the same to everyone? Does a gift mean the same thing to everyone?
Let’s look at one aspect of communication – using words. Words can often be misinterpreted or difficult to process if we cannot “hear” someone’s tone or where they are putting emphasis unless it is specifically stated. For example the question…
“Have you changed your mind?”
By simply adding an adjective such as thrilled, worried, or annoyed, the sentence takes on a different context altogether.
“Have you changed your mind?” …I am thrilled
I’m a little worried…“Have you changed your mind?”
“Have you changed your mind?!!” I am so annoyed you’re telling me at the last minute.
But without explanation, it is very difficult to be 100% certain to know what the sender’s intent might be. I have had hundreds of conversations with my daughter looking at text messages. We banter about possible interpretations or misinterpretations ultimately concluding that mistyped words and the good old autocorrect are often the causes of miscommunication via texts. It is always best to ask than overthink.
Many times we can misinterpret intended words because we are hearing them with our own present mood.
Then there are the differences between actual words. Between cultures and countries, different words are used for the exact same thing. Like the age old debate of what a certain bread item is called. I live in the United Kingdom. When I first moved cross country, I wasn’t aware of the local colloquialisms. I went into a fish and chip shop, and I saw on the menu “Chip Cob.” For someone who grew up in the south west of England, this was a word I had never heard before. It was a few months until I figured out it meant chips wrapped in bread. We called them chip butties.
In the south, we call circular-shaped bread “rolls.” In the east, “cobs,” A little further north, you will hear “bread cakes, bread muffins, or baps.” Not to confuse my American friends:
UK = chips; USA = fries
UK = crisps; USA = chips
The wonderful thing about this example is throughout the debates, everyone is right.
If we take a step back and realize, it isn’t about being right or wrong. It isn’t about everyone chanting the exact same words. It is actually fun chatting with others as to what certain words mean to them.
Another example I find fascinating is what we put waste in; another highly debated topic. In the UK, we put waste in a “bin.” We have a bin bag, bin day, bin men, and wheelie bins. I didn’t think it was that funny until a recent conversation with a friend in America.
“Rubbish…trash…garbage.” They all are the same. “Waste!” If we move away from wanting to be right and or wrong, maybe ask questions, and try to learn, we could be having some fascinating, open-minded conversations.
I was having another conversation a while ago, and the other person had received some bad news. Their friend had lost someone close to them. Initially, they thought about their own mortality, “Omg what if this happens to me?” Then they felt lost. They didn’t know what to say to others for fear of saying the wrong thing.
I suggested she acknowledge their feelings, be honest, also tell them how you feel, and ask what they need.
“I am so sorry. I can’t imagine how you are feeling, and I’m worried I may say the wrong thing, I will help in any way. Whether you would like to talk or just be quiet, I am here for you.”
It’s never easy to be vulnerable or admit you do not know what to say in this case. In many cases when we know someone who experiences loss, many people pull away for fear of saying something wrong. It is so curious how much we overthink our communication at times. Is there a right or wrong, perhaps at times? Is saying something better than saying nothing at all, I believe so.
For me, starting communication is easier when I start by asking a question. As an introvert, it has taken time to decrease my fear of starting conversations, and keeping the dialogue open and flowing. It is important for me to honor others’ boundaries and my own.
Sometimes we don’t need our problems to be fixed, we just need to know someone has our back whilst we process how we are feeling, without judgment. Communication can offer a vital sense of purpose. Being heard and knowing we are not alone changes lives.
How did I go from bin bags to making sure we all have a sense of belonging?
A sure Faith Brain Dump today.