Thinking Out Loud


Although this may seem overstated, misunderstanding is the norm. I don’t mean that pessimistically. The process of giving and receiving information is complex. We use words as a primary vehicle for communicating ideas, information, and personal experience. Those words are like brush strokes on a canvas, gradually illuminating a picture that has literal elements as well as an essence and mood that are invisible to the eye.

It is the combination of the invisible and the literal that create meaning and an opportunity for understanding—and it is logical and expected that two people will find it difficult to truly understand the inner experience of each other. So when I say misunderstanding is the norm, I am acknowledging how complex the process of interpersonal communication really is. Although we may understand most of what is said and meant, it’s nearly impossible to understand it all.

Often we expect to achieve understanding in a straightforward manner, yet experience tells us that it takes more than one go around. In fact it usually takes several. Misunderstandings are part of the process that allows and necessitates exploration. Expecting that you won’t achieve understanding right away despite your best efforts and good communication skills creates patience.

Misunderstanding, in this sense, is not a negative. It simply means that you will likely understand part of what is communicated but getting the whole of it will take more time, curiosity, and steadiness. Adjusting your expectations to account for this process is necessary to achieve effective communication.

If you watch an artist create a painting, you don’t expect to know what it will communicate with the first splash of color or by observing a rough outline. Conversation is the same: As the words, feelings, and images layer upon each other, texture is created. With curiosity and good questions, the layering continues until you have a fully constructed conversation that then may require further reflection.

My use of the word misunderstand is meant to encourage humility, patience, and curiosity. Approaching communication with that trio will create an atmosphere of trust, respect, and emotional safety, with the likelihood of achieving true understanding higher and more realistic.

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