The common complaint is- ‘Why do people not understand me?’ I say something but people understand something else and it is not about strangers, even very close people do not understand me. The closer you are to a person, there is more possibility to be misunderstood. Why so? What can be done about it?
The common reason for misunderstanding in communication is ignoring the fundamental fact about human nature. By the natural law of evolution, we are all self-occupied, self-centred and narcissistic. I’m not passing any moral judgement on this fact, whether we should be self-centred or not is a story for another day. At this moment, I want to highlight that nature had made us so. I suspect that nature has made us self centred for a good reason. It is for the purpose of self-perseverance. The logic is simple that if we won’t take care of ourselves in the state of nature, who will? So, without going into the morality of the issue of narcissism, let’s take it as a given fact. If we are all wired this way, what are the implications for effective communication?
Due to being self-centred, we are considered islands, metaphorically and then, how do two islands connect? Generally, they don’t as long as they cheat themselves as the centre of their attention. Furthermore, the first reason for misunderstanding or lack of misunderstanding is that we try to reach out to the other person from where we are. We don’t bother where the other person is, we are not present to the other person. We don’t know what the other person is dealing with.
For example, you see your relative in trouble and you give the most well-intentioned suggestion to improve their situation. How many times will you be considered in the right spirit? How many times is your advice misinterpreted as an undue intervention in their lives?
I suggest that good intentions are not enough. You may feel like complaining that you were so caring and yet you’re seen as an intruder. Why is there a presence of this misunderstanding?
Share a situation where you were clearly misunderstood and your good intentions were misinterpreted? Were you able to resolve the issue and how?
My take on the above issue is that whenever we communicate, we are so full of ourselves we don’t pay attention to the fact of ‘where the other person is?’ Our eagerness to tell our side of the story supersedes us understanding how it is landing on the other side. In fact, we aren’t talking to the other person but ourselves. Have you noticed the number of times you have truly listened to the other person? Don’t you notice that when the other person is speaking, you are constantly waiting for them to finish so that you can start presenting your point? It isn’t communication, it is cross-communication. For effective communication, you have to be present for the other person. To ‘be present’ to the other person means at least two things- your attention and your availability to the other person. Only then will you be able to see and understand where the other person is, making you connect with them.
The common mistake in communication is that we rush to correct the other person before connecting to them. If you correct before you connect, the person would not listen. Connecting before correcting is a cardinal principle of being understood and avoiding misunderstandings.
The question now is how to connect with people? Please share your experiences in the comment section wherever you felt well connected with another person and how?
As I mentioned previously, people are self-centred. To connect with others, you have to focus on them, their occupations, their condition and their concerns at that point in time. Focus on how you can be a good, non-judgemental listener to them. At this stage, the communication is for them but not for you. You want to draw them out of their cocoon with the help of your communication. Prior to connecting with them, make sure they are present there and their presence is ensured by making them feel that you care about them. When they feel your interest in their concerns, a safety shield develops around them due to your presence and care. Sometimes, the most effective communication is not too much talking but listening. The latter should feel that they are heard fully and not judged.
If the case is so, why are we unable to listen to others?
The possible explanation is when we talk to others, we are just so full of ourselves that we don’t empty ourselves to listen to them and the moment the other person says something we don’t like, we start getting upset and anguished because our focus shifts to ourselves. To listen to the other person, we have to be aware of our nature. A narcissistic person is the one who’s world revolves around themselves and their main question to them is ‘what is in it for me?’ But, for effective communication, the question should be ‘what is in it for us?’
The famous economist Adam Smith wrote long back that everybody is guided by self-interest. There is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, it is the fundamental principle of life. All the wealthy countries earned their wealth by encouraging the markets guided by self-interest. On the contrary, India’s rishis (saints) pointed out years ago that focusing on just yourself is limiting. The better philosophy of life is taking care of yourself and others. The same applies to effective communication as well that be prepared to understand others in order to be understood yourself. In other words, hear others out fully and completely before expecting yourself to be understood.