Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Misunderstandings Abound

Originally posted on February 7, 2011

I recently inquired about some item that I wasn’t sure I should be looking for somewhere in the context, but the person I asked took it as an implied complaint, as if she “should” have had it there for me. I hadn’t even thought such a thing; there was no reproach in my mind—but the other person took it that way. Luckily, I found out about the misunderstanding through a third party who was annoyed with me that I had annoyed the second party—even though I hadn’t known that any annoyance (and misunderstanding) had taken place. Fortunately, I was able to make amends—I hope—, but it reminded me of the potential for misunderstanding that operates in the social system!

In an ideal world (yeah, right) person 2 would have said, “are you asking me to get it for you?” and I would have said, “No, I’m just wondering if I didn’t get the information as to where I should look for it.”  And /or: “Are you reproaching me?” “Not at all.”  Or person 3 would say to me, defending person 2: Did you mean to reproach 2? Me: Is that how she took it? It didn’t even occur to me to feel any blame toward her.” 3: “Oh, well she thought you were annoyed with her, and I’m inclined to defend her.” Me: “Thanks for letting me correct this. No, I’m fine with her and will tell her so.”

Nor is there blame for number 2 for not getting my intentions clear. Sometimes the signals don’t get couched in sufficiently tactful ways. Sometimes there is oversensitivity based on past reproaches. And other factors. Misunderstandings happen. This blog just wants it noted that this kind of thing with innumerable variations happens all the time. The problem gets compounded when we imagine that it wouldn’t happen if people cared, if they tried. That’s a mistake.

Misunderstandings can happen among people who are cautious and truly caring. It is in the nature of communication, of set and wording, of how a word or phrase may not be just taken wrong, but that these bits of communication can really mean different things to different people. Just knowing that this process happens a fair amount may open the door to more people checking out, getting and giving of feedback, making it easier to re-align.

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