I think all would agree that communication cannot be separated from miscommunication. They seem to go hand in hand. Have you ever experienced feeling you have communicated your message clearly – only to be surprised that it was completely misunderstood. Or, on the listening end, you heard something very different than what was intended? What’s the problem? Well…..I have found in my counseling and coaching that all faulty communication has its roots in assuming. What is assuming? Thinking you know what someone is saying and not checking it out (and usually you are wrong). It’s not just the assuming that gets relationships in trouble. It’s the belief the assumption is absolutely correct.
Recently, I fell victim to my own faulty assumptions and ended up having to spend time and energy on repairing a relationship. The process could have been so much shorter and less damaging if I had just stopped and clarified what the other person was saying. But in my unaware state, using my “magical” gift of mind-reading, I confidently ran down the road of assuming I was right and reacted accordingly. What a mess up.
So, how do you negotiate the road of communication without falling victim to assumptions?
First, become self-aware. Find your triggers. Recognize your negative mindsets. See your defensiveness. This is where coaching can be really helpful. Having a professional help you identify the areas where you get trapped. If you can’t afford a coach – talk to a wise friend or journal. Take the time to stop and get to know yourself. The good, the great and the not-so-pretty.
Second, learn to check it out, before your amygdala takes over and you are deep into an emotional reaction. Choosing to pause, think it through and then respond. Take a deep breath, count to five, check your attitude, then check out what the other person is saying. Ask a question – “Hey, I didn’t quite follow. What did you mean by blah blah blah”? You now have the information you need to respond, tell them how you feel, and engage in positive communication.
Lastly, change your perspective. A negative or pessimistic filter will always lead to not believing the best about a statement, a person or a situation. Optimism, on the other hand, offers options and possibilities that allow for a good conclusion. Negativity – making everything personal, leads to protective scrutiny. Giving others a chance is choosing to listen, then believing that what someone has to say is good, informative, caring or at worst neutral. Positive communication is a responsible and respectful way to engage with others. Assuming destroys healthy communication and destroys relationships.
So before you assume the worst, give it a moment and check it out.