“Dan told me the meeting starts at 9:00.” “Well, Dan told me that the meeting was moved to 1:00.” “Really? Because Dan told ME that the meeting was cancelled.” “No he didn’t. Why would he say that?” What started off as an innocent question about meeting time turned into a heated discussion. Has this ever happened to you? When you think to yourself or aloud: what…just…happened?
Often conflict starts with misunderstanding. It can feel like we are not being respected for our knowledge and experience, whether we’re the speaker or the listener. We think we’re saying what we mean, but others are hearing it in a different way, and now we’re all feeling disrespected and not heard.
How can we get around misunderstanding to a respectful exchange of differing views without getting into a conflict that results in either stopping the exchange of ideas, or forcing ideas on others?
Un-PAAC the misunderstanding with these four steps:
1. Pay attention to the signals. There are three ways to recognize that the conversation is about to become a conflict. You may notice physical signals such as a tightening in your stomach or throat, a squeaky voice, or your eyes get dry. Emotional signals might be reactions such as fear, anger, or hurt. You may notice yourself trying to suppress these feelings or reacting with these feelings. Behavioral signals might be pointing your finger, standing to make a point, raising your voice, or becoming very quiet. Think about past conversations where conflict was involved. What were cues that the conversation was about to get tough?
2. Ask. Ask the other person to share in their own words what they just heard. We all speak and listen through our own perceptive filters. Those filters can be very different, even when we’re discussing the same subject. Hearing the other person’s interpretation can give you clues about how to clarify your message.
3. Apologize. A sincere apology for any part you played in misunderstanding shows respect, and allows the other person to hear what you are about to say.
4. Contrast. Misunderstanding is entirely unintended, but can result in the other person feeling disrespected or even insulted. You have innocently shared your views about something and the other person thinks your intention is to point out their faults, talk badly about them, or coerce them into doing things your way. Use contrasting to clear the air. Tell first what you DON’T want by addressing their concerns, then what you DO want. “The last thing I want to do is discount all the hard work you’ve put into this presentation, or to communicate that I don’t value your contributions. I did want to share a different way to think about this piece of the project. I don’t know what the answer is. My only goal is to add ideas for consideration.”
Great discussions can get waylaid because of innocent misunderstanding. So why did Dan tell each person a different thing? Simple: he didn’t. The misunderstanding occurred because each of them were talking about a different Dan at the office. Once they clarified last names and who each of them were talking about, they were able to focus on the original question and find the answer.
Instead of letting anger, resentment or distrust develop, un-PAAC misunderstanding and confusion. Your interactions will be more effective and your meetings more productive. You and everyone else will be glad you did.
For more information on effective communication and responding with understanding and intention,