Self Development

Misunderstandings in communication

“Between what I think, what I want to say, what I believe I’m saying, what I say, what you want to hear, what you hear, what you believe you understand, what you what to understand and what you understand, there are at least nine possibilities for misunderstanding.” Francois Garagnon

During my art therapy course, we had a session on communication and we were given the quote above to read and digest. After reading it only once, I realized how quickly the message can be lost in translation from one person’s brain to their mouth, to the other person’s ear, then to their brain and finally to their mouth.

When I was young, my mother stopped talking to me the moment that I did something wrong. Most of the times, I didn’t know what I did wrong. I was wondering for hours, days and sometimes weeks what could I have possibly done wrong. It was frustrating, damaging and confusing. So, I never learned how to communicate a problem and how to respond to someone’s requests. Often in my communication, I omit to communicate how I feel, what I need and I pile up frustration and mental agony about what the other person might think of me and my actions.

As always, since I never received this “schooling” at home, I turn to books and I try to make a sense out of everything that I read and put into practice. I just finished the book “Words are Windows, or They’re Walls: A presentation of non-violent communication” by Marshall Rosenberg. I already read many other books on communication, but I think this one really sums up all of them in one single sentence. If I were to summarize the book in one phrase it would be: You will have learned to communicate properly when voice out your problem to your interlocutor in the following manner: When (the following happens), I feel (the following), because I need (the following), therefore I would like to (the following).

So, next time you feel the need to say the following: “You never help me with the housework because you are lazy and you don’t care about me and my time”. Stop and think of the “I feel”, “I need”, “I would like to”. Whenever you want to express your problem, make sure that you are not using only the pronoun “you” in that sentence. This is your problem, therefore express it without putting the blame on the other person. Thus, the problem above would translate as follows: I feel very frustrated and tired, because I have been working all week and I need some time to relax, therefore I would like it if you helped me out with the laundry. This way, I assure you that the other person’s response will be different than if she/he heard the word “lazy”, “not caring or loving”.

If you look carefully at the break down of the words “I feel”, “I need”, “I would like to”, you are actually sending out a very clear message. You are letting the other person how they are making you feel, what your need is and how you would like to have your need satisfied. In order to avoid any other misunderstanding, you can ask the person afterwards to repeat what you said in order to make sure that they understood your message.

Here are some other examples of sentences which are translated in a non-violent manner:

Violent Communication: You always have an excuse when I ask you to make love to me. Your head hurts or you’re tired, there is always a reason. You don’t love me anymore and you don’t care at all about my needs.
Non-violent Communication: When you refuse to have sex with me, I feel frustrated and unwanted. I feel the need to be more sexually active, and I would like to have an open discussion with you about what your needs and wishes are in order to make sure that neither of us suffer due to this issue.

Violent Communication:  You came home last night 1 hour later than we convened. You are not to be trusted and I am grounding you from going out for the next 3 months.
Non-violent Communication: I was very scared last night when I saw you came home one hour later than we convened. I need to be able to trust you when we decide on a particular hour. I would like to discuss about this issue so that it’s not a problem in the future.

As you can see, the message and the atmosphere of the sentences changes completely. You are more likely to have an open discussion, rather than a defensive behavior in an argument. However, this is not as easy as it seems. I must say that reading this book put everything into perspective. We are so used to communicating in a violent manner, that learning to communicate as mentioned in the examples above, it’s almost like learning another language. It is so easy to focus on the other person and think that they are the cause of our problem. When in fact, if we learned to concentrate on our needs and wishes, we would have a less defensive partner to deal with.

After reading this book, I understood why so many people choose not to change their ways of communicating. This is hard work. A very quick response to the book would be: “You mean to tell me that now I have to rephrase everything I say??” Many view changing their ways of communication as a waste of time, inconvenience, a difficulty and a constant control of their thoughts and words. But my answer is: There is no progress without struggle. Communication is something that is learned very quickly since a very early age. If child is used to hearing faulty communication, it is very likely that they will use it as well. And the cycle goes on and on, until one of us decides to improve their way of communicating so that they don’t contribute to the vicious cycle.

If you don’t have time to read this book, I found on Youtube, Marshall Rosenberg’s entire workshop sessions on Non-Violent Communication. I truly recommend watching them.

Comic credits: Calvin and Hobbes

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