Why They Misunderstood What You Said!

Before reading this post, please bring to mind an important partnership, and one where you have stumbled in communication and/or currently have something you’ve been holding back, out of concern it won’t be heard well. What would you like to share with the other? 

“Open communication” is the most frequently cited driver of great pairs. As my friend John Gillis once said, “In LX2, you can speak what feels unspeakable.” In the last post I wrote, I invited you to consider how natural your human defenses are when someone asks a question as simple as, “Can I talk to you for a minute about something?” Uh-oh, you think, what’s coming?

Today, I change the focus in two ways. First, where that post spoke to the situation in which someone approaches you with some type of inquiry, this post focuses on when you want to approach someone else with something you suspect may cause them to be defensive. And where the last post invited you to look deeply at your unconscious and defensive wiring, this one offers very practical strategies for communicating, when the risk of (mutual) misunderstanding and potential defensive and offensive responses lie close beneath the surface.

The bottom line for safe and potentially mutually empowering open communication is two-fold: 

I. Clarify for yourself specifically what you want from the other. I’ll offer you a spectrum to delineate the options. And only then:

II. Craft a frame to express that expectation

So, first, clarify just what you want. I invited you to bring to mind a past or potential conflict. Bring it to mind as you consider what it is you really want from the other.  Here is a menu of eight possible expectations:

  1. Please Inform me, e.g. about something you said, did or know.
  2. Would you please reflect back on something I’m thinking/feeling. I could use a sounding board. 
  3. I need you to know something. I am not asking you to respond, act, etc. Instead, I just want you to know something. 
  4. I just need to vent! It’s about my feelings. It is not about your character or your intent. For example, “I just felt disappointed when you made that decision without consulting me.” (There, I got it off my chest.)
  5. Advise me. I’d like your advice, coaching, counsel. I’m at a loss. Help!
  6. Consider a request I have of you. Don’t necessarily answer. Just consider. Then maybe we can discuss later.
  7. Please, commit to a behavior. I am requesting action on your part, now.
  8. Be advised. I plan to take action you should know about.

Once you have done this – clarified your expectation – you can frame it for the other…with a much greater likelihood of avoiding two unwanted outcomes. First, it’s less likely they will misinterpret what you are asking. You’ll eliminate some of the false assumptions they are prone to make which can generate their defensive or offensive responses. There’s still no guarantee they won’t – often without knowing it – feel triggered and push back. So, the second outcome may be even more important:  if you remember the specific reason for your legitimate request, it will be easier to stay focused, should things head south and get conflictual. You can more easily clarify what you are (and aren’t!) hoping for, so they and you can

Lead with your best selves.