In life, communication is probably one of the most important skills we can learn.
But it’s also one of the hardest.
I recently had a bit of a back and forth with my sister, and it became clear that we were not “getting” each other. The communication was through email, and while written communication allows people an opportunity to get their thoughts out in an organized fashion, it is also prone to misinterpretation.
See, we all have our own triggers and filters. So no matter how clear one person *thinks* they are being, they can’t control how the other person will receive the message. This idea is summed up pretty well here:
It’s true, we don’t see things as they are presented. We see things as we interpret them. These interpretations are based on our own experiences, and sometimes they can be quite different from the initial intent.
This concept was definitely played out in our interaction.
She had some thoughts and ideas she wanted to share, I received them, interpreted them in a different way then what was intended, and responded accordingly. Sadly, this sort of thing happens all the time.
What makes matters worse though is that when she saw my response, she thought she had offended me. And because she thought she had offended me, she felt it was best to apologize and not address the issue any further.
How We Can Help
Maybe it’s just me, and my own poor communication skills – but I see this everywhere. We all have moments where we are scared to say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and hurt someone we care about. So often, we say or do nothing.
It’s natural, and understandable. But I feel this approach is very broken.
When you care about someone, you will hurt them sometimes. You will piss them off sometimes.
And that should be alright. That’s part of what a relationship is about.
When you genuinely care about someone, you care when you see them hurting. And you want to support them and help them however you can. Thing is, you can’t actually “do” anything. With the people we love, we can be there to listen and support them. And we can try to make suggestions and advise them. But that’s about it.
Incidentally, this is one area that guys seem to get themselves in trouble. Guys are “fixers”. We have a hard time listening without thinking solution. Not sure why, but it seems to be something that’s hardwired into us. And from what I read/hear/see, women don’t actually like that. Sometimes they want to talk and have us guys just listen and not say anything. Ladies, I have to tell you – sometimes it’s really freaking hard to do that.
In any case, everyone has their own battles to face, and only they can face them. So even when someone you care about is hurting, or you think they are making poor decisions, or you think you can help them – you can’t actually do anything more than listen, support and advise.
It’s the advising part that gets us in trouble though.
Dealing with Advice
When offering advice, how you do it is very important. It always has to be done in a way that is about the issue or behavior at hand, and not the person. No matter how careful you are though, you still have no control over how the other person will interpret what you say.
And sometimes the recipient will not to be receptive to what you have to say.
People don’t like being criticized, told they are wrong, or feel they are being told what to do. And advice can often feel like all of those things.
It’s important to remember advice is often an attempt at constructive criticism, and not the same as being critical of the other person. It’s only when it is poorly presented or when we are oversensitive that they things can appear the same.
If you are someone who can’t take criticism (constructive or not), consider this. People often provide advice for two different reasons:
- they feel they know everything, and they are more than happy to share their opinions (solicited or not). Often trying to force their ideas on someone else
- they feel they may have experiences/knowledge that gives them insight into what someone is going through, and they want to share that to try and help the other person
These are two very different approaches. And when in doubt, it’s probably a good idea to assume that someone is giving advice because they do actually care, and want the best for you.
Learning to accept criticism is very important.
Everyone’s experiences are different, and no two situations are exactly the same. Even if they were, we are all different so what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. But we can still try to learn from each other. Learning is all about doing things, seeing flaws in our approaches and learning from them.
We can’t learn unless we accept the flaws and limitations in how we do things. And sometimes we are blind to those flaws, and need some guidance from the people who care about us.
If someone can’t take criticism, often this is more an issue with them and their own insecurities. But it means they often remain stuck, and unable to improve on where they are.
Afraid to Offend
When people care about each other, they shouldn’t be worried about hurting each other. They should be careful about what they say and not hurt the other person intentionally, but hurting each other is part of caring about the other person. They tend to go together.
It’s only when you do care about someone that they have the capability to hurt you.
I think good communication is about being able to say what you feel is right without fear of how the other person will interpret it. And also being able to accept that your thoughts may or may not be accepted the way you want, and that’s alright.
A big issue with communication is that people worry too much, and end up scared to say the important things because they feel the other person will not see it as information/advice, and will instead take it as an attack.
So instead they say nothing.
When it comes to the people we love and the people we care about, I think one of the most important things we can do is learn to say “no”, or to say “I disagree”. If I’m being selfish, a jerk, or an idiot – I WANT the people I care about to call me out, to tell me that how I am acting or what I am doing is not acceptable.
It may hurt, and it may piss me off. But that’s alright.
To my sis, I know she cares. We won’t always see eye to eye, and that’s alright. If there’s something she wants to say, I don’t want her to ever be scared to say it. If I think she’s out of line I will tell her. But I’ll also listen, and consider what she has said.
And to me, that’s a big part of what relationships are about.