Say what you mean and mean what you say ~ unknown
Let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” no ~ James 5:12 NIV
Speak[ing] the truth in love. ~ Ephesians 4:15 NIV
There are all these assumptions and guidelines about what communication should consist of and be about. There are seminars, books, classes, and degrees all about communication – the conveyance of one’s ideas to another in a coherent manner which result in being understood.
If you speak the same language, it seems like it should be fairly simple and straightforward, right? After all the dictionary provides definitions and we all have the same basic understanding of the words we speak and hear every day.
I looked up the word, “simple.” It’s actually quite the complicated word. Merriam-Webster has an entry for it as a noun as well as an adjective. That surprised me. I looked at Dictionary.com and there were five definitions for the word as a noun. Here’s the real head spinner: there were 24 definitions for “simple” as an adjective.
Most of the definitions were regarding how it is used to describe inanimate objects, situations, and use in scientific or mathematical terminology. All these were about it meaning that something was singular, not mixed, or uncomplicated.
The other definitions, though, were about how people are described: common or lowly, mentally deficient, naive, lacking in some way. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, considering the nursery rhyme about Simple Simon.
The point of all this is that we think and want communication to be straightforward, uncomplicated, and simple. We want to be understood, oftentimes more than we are willing to try to understand.
When we feel we haven’t been understood, we may mistakenly believe or assume it is somehow the fault of the other person: they weren’t paying attention or didn’t care. Well, maybe. Did we slow down enough to see if they were available and present or did we start talking and expect the sound of our voice to flip a switch in their brain? Did we make the effort to find out if there was something else bothering them or that they had on their hearts and minds or did we just steamroll ahead with our flurry of words?
Do we know this person, whom we are bombarding with our words and thoughts, well enough to know how they best receive and process information? Are we taking that into consideration or just doing what works for us? Do we know if they have the same definitions of the words we are saying as we do?
All of that is simply about language and information processing. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, regardless of how rational, logical, or educated we may be, ultimately we are complex beings with layers of life experiences that have formed and imbued our language interpretation with emotional and biochemical responses that trigger physiological reactions and flood our bodies and brains with neurochemicals. That’s why we relate, almost universally to David Banner’s Hulk alter ego so well.
When Jerry and I try to talk to each other all of this complicated “stuff” is already in the way. As much as I want him to be the one to change and accept that I am the way I am, I have to be willing to do the same for him. It doesn’t mean he’s “off the hook” for being accountable for his stuff and his side of the street. It does mean that I have to stop expecting him to change and figure out how to be the change I want to see.
If I want him to really listen to me and make the effort to understand me, then I have to stop trying to get him to change and make me feel understood. I have to make the changes and do the work to listen to and understand him and communicate that to him.
I know this is true because we had a difficult day yesterday. There was a conversation that happened that seemed to put us into our standard place of screaming silence fraught with hurt and anger. However, because I did some things differently, we moved through it better and faster than before. It wasn’t perfect and there are still residual effects. But it was better.
As I stop focusing on what Jerry is in the wrong about and let go of what I think he should be doing differently, I am better able to identify my part of the equation and understand my errors. I can’t fix or change Jerry’s. He can’t fix or change mine.
I was actually able to tell him, “We are in this together. I love you and support you, whatever you decide to do. However, I want my thoughts and feelings heard, validated and considered as much as you want yours. . . If we love each other, we have to love and accept ALL of each other and ourselves, even the things that are frustrating and that we don’t like.”
I think he heard me.