Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What do you mean by that?

I walk into the kitchen and announce to my husband that the toilet is running again.

My two year-old looks up at me inquisitively, "How is it running? I wanna see it!" 

I laugh right out loud.  I try to explain to her that the "running" I am referring to is the water in the back of the tank.  This is lost on her.  She stares blankly back. 

I realize I'll need to show her.  We take a field trip to the potty and I lift the heavy lid off the tank.  She looks at it in amazement.  I can see the wheels turning in her head and I am thankful that the lid is too heavy for her to lift on her own. 

I try again to show her what I mean when I say the toilet is running, knowing that she is still picturing a toilet with legs.  My words fall on deaf ears as the moment has passed.   She is off to find her brothers and scheme about getting back into the magic toilet tank. 

As I reflect on this exchange it makes me think about how often adults say things we don't mean. 

I was stuck in traffic and subsequently late for dinner, I called to tell my husband that they should eat without me.  My husband relayed this information to my two youngest children and they suggested that the family bring hammers and go help me get "unstuck." 

So literal.  So tangible.  So concrete. 

As skilled as we are at communicating; speaking, writing, phoning, texting, tweeting, adults often forget to be clear in the message being sent.    The definition of communication is the conveying of ideas from one entity to another.  The give and take to create shared understanding.  Communication does not happen in a vacuum.

Miscommunication occurs when the real meaning is misinterpreted.  Generally not an issue of comprehension but reception.

Adults have expectations of communication.  A preconceived notion about the message that being delivered.  These notions are based on our own beliefs, attitudes, opinions, experiences and values.  

The Internet is fraught with guidelines and tips for communicating more clearly but what is missing, in my humble opinion, are tips for eliminating the filter on what you hear another person communicate.

How do you teach yourself to believe that when your boss says, "You finished that project quickly." 

It doesn't necessarily mean, "I bet you didn't do a good job."  

When your husband says, "Do you remember the last time we ate food that was prepared in our own kitchen?" 

It might not mean, "You are a terrible mother."

How do you train yourself to believe that the message intended JUST MIGHT be the message that is sent.  The words might just be words. 

I, for one, am going to study my children and attempt to be more like them.  Innocent and honest.  No insinuations, no underlying meanings.  I am going to say what I mean and mean what I say.

Sounds easy enough, right?


  1. this is a FABULOUS post that hits so very close to home! you're 100% right about the importance of clarity and to train ourselves to take things in a positive light. i, for one, could sure use that practice and this was an excellent reminder to to do so! and that clip of the toilet? well, that's just genius! :)

  2. This s so true and I think it is going to be SO ard. We have so many things that just fly our of our mouths that get blank stares from our kids. When I think about the toilet running...I actually have to pause to think of another way to say it! I do totally agree that we need to be as clear as possible and see things in a positive way instead of assuming the worst. I do that and it's the last thing I want my kids to do. I'm nost always sure how to make my message more clear but it's worth trying!

    Love this post and like you, I LOVE blog hopping!

  3. That's such a basic idea and would do me a world of good!

  4. I'm so glad I found this post...I almost never believe that words are just words. My husband and I will go round and round about what I *hear* and what he *says*. And I'm so glad I'm not the only one out there whose filters seem to be skewed to the negative.