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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Conflict and Misunderstandings--What You Understood me to Say vs What I Intended

Susan J Meyerott, Artist
"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." S.I. Hiyakawa

How does Communication Turn Ugly so Fast When Your Intentions are so Good?

Do you have days when despite your best intentions to communicate clearly and respectfully with someone you find difficult, your words set the other person off and everything 'goes to Hell in a hand-basket'? I do. 

And while I may start with the best of intentions (see my halo and wings?), the seemingly intentional twisting of my words  by the other person quickly leads me to wicked thoughts and the worst of intentions (a sharp-tongued, fire-breathing angel-turned-evil spirit inside--muhaha). 

If you examine yourself closely, like me, you'll discover your evolved, mature self and your immature, reactive self fighting it out inside. 

Your mature self has learned to act calmly, set positive intentions--and hold its tongue; your immature self reacts and has the potential to come out swinging when threatened--calling people poo-poo heads and plotting childish revenge. Why is that?

People we perceive as difficult have the capacity to make us feel threatened and out of control which shifts us into our reptilian (fight or flight) brain. 

When we're caught off-guard in a communication-gone-bad with a difficult person, we revert to a more primitive, reactive way of dealing with the world as a means of protecting ourselves against the perceived threat.

Regaining Our Composure After a Mess Erupts

The question, is how do we engage our evolved self to more quickly find our way through a quickly disintegrating muddled mess with a difficult person--and prevent our reactive self from turning a bad situation worse? 

Sure, you could choose to sit in your self-righteous anger--nursing your negative thoughts and feeling smug about your rightness and the other person's wrongness--but that doesn't serve you or the situation in the long-run.

It's not easy to recover from hurt and indignant feelings to get back on a more positive course of action--but you are the only one who experiences your inner world. Why would you want to let the negative people guide your thoughts and your actions?

Check Your Perceptions

To call on your mature self to help you through difficult interactions you need to manage how you view the person and the situation.  

When we think of someone as a 'difficult person' rather than 'a person we have difficulty with' we set ourselves up to expect them to be difficult--and brace ourselves for negative interactions.

Understand you are the creator of your own perceptions, thoughts and feelings making up your inner world. You choose whether it is positive or negative--heavenly or hellish as the Samurai learns in the following story.


Susan J Meyerott, Artist
How We Create Our Personal Hell--Or Heaven

Pema Chodron in her book--Awakening Loving-Kindness--tells the story of a Samurai visiting a wise man to ask about the nature of Heaven and Hell. 

The wise man proceeds to berate and belittle the Samurai--calling him names and saying he is not worthy of this knowledge. The Samurai gets angrier and angrier and in a fit of rage, raises his sword and is about to cut off the man's head, when the wise man says, "That is HELL".

In an instant, the Samurai understands and sees he has created his own Hell in which his anger, resentment, and rage took him to the brink of killing this man. In a flash of understanding he drops his sword and begins to sob. The wise man says, " And that is HEAVEN".


Susan J Meyerott, Artist

What Are You Primed To Hear?

Every moment we make decisions about which path to take in response to life's challenges--including the negative reactions of others.  

We are all primed to listen and pay attention in a positive or negative way based on how we've trained ourselves. 

Sometimes people are primed to misunderstand and feel threatened causing them to listen for slights, criticism or blame. This can intensify when cliques have formed at work or in the family, creating us against them factions.

Once someone's feelings get hurt--and avoidance sets in--you can end up in a never-ending cycle of misunderstanding and hurt feelings, criticism and blame, and talking about rather than talking to the other person which ultimately leads to more factions, taking sides, and bad mouthing. 

Although you may strive to communicate in a positive manner to a person 'dug in' it may not be received that way because the person is already primed to hear what you say as negative--and vice versa


Artist: Susan J Meyerott


The Bottom-line: Choose How You Want to Behave Regardless

So what can you do when the other person is primed to hear anything you say as negative and threatening? 

Choose how you want to behave regardless of how the other person behaves. 

Check your intentions, stay the course, keep your eyes on your life goals, and commit to working from your mature self.

Decide how YOU want to be--and how you want to live your life--and let that be your guide for moving forward. 

Not everyone is going to like you--and you will have people in your life who are difficult to deal with. The question always comes back to how do you want to live your life and how do you wish to behave?

So after you get over feeling indignant and hurt about the twisting of your words and intentions--redirect your attention by asking yourself: 
  • What do you want to build or create in your life?
  • What actions do you want to commit to despite obstacles and misunderstandings?
  • What attitudes do you want to live with? When you look inside, do you carry more negative, than positive thoughts or more positive than negative thoughts?
  • How are you training yourself to listen?


'Always do right; this will gratify some and astonish the rest.'  Mark Twain


Road-map to Repair Relationship after Miscommunication



Susan J Meyerott

*Special thanks to Lee for sending me Pema Chodron's website. As always--perfect story; perfect timing.


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For more than 30 years, Susan Meyerott has been helping people lighten up and step over invisible barriers to change one step at a time. She speaks to your heart, puts you at ease, and makes changing easier than ever before.

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2 comments:

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Sue, loved this. Reminded me of a time several years ago that I sent out a business/association communication via email to a group and one of the people (a person who was known for this sort of thing) chose to misinterpret the message and go on the attack, cc-ing everyone, of course. Somehow I was able to sit on myself - er, I mean, resist the urge - and not whip out my best sarcasm. I summoned all my patience and responded with a lengthy, carefully worded email. But she was not inclined to listen to reason. Anyway, long story short, we went back and forth a half a dozen times, and all the while I took the high road. She never backed down, but a number of people in the group later told me they admired the way I handled it.

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Ah, Jean...your story feels so familiar! I think we have all dealt with that same person!