You Are Not Understanding Me!
Taking Off Our Glasses to "See"
by Mary Madison Campbell
Have you ever communicated information to someone and they received a completely different message than what you meant? This usually happens because you are sending the message through your lens and they are receiving it through theirs. Even in the best of circumstances, things get lost in translation. Add stress, anger, grief, lack of visual cues or strong feelings about the other person, and there is likely to be a misunderstanding, or worse. My husband and I regularly bemoan not having recorded our conversation because we both are sure we said/heard completely different things.
How we see and hear is learned, and learned a little differently by each person. We are all shaped by lifelong cultural norms, experiences, judgments and events. So we each see everyone and everything through our own set of prescription glasses.
Often the role of a mediator, or any third party assisting with a conflict, is to be an "untangler" – helping parties discover underlying data, and ensuring that everyone sees and hears the same information. The untangler works to go past the layers of cultural norms, emotions or judgments that might obscure the raw data underneath. Then parties have a chance to look at information with fresh eyes, and hopefully are able to better understand the other person's point of reference. They don't need to agree with each other; they just need to understand each other's situation, motivation and experience.
From that place, the parties can talk about goals and interests for the long term. Discovering the raw data opens the possibility for any number of ways to meet the goals. I recently worked on a case where a debt arose several years earlier; because the farmer did not understand that some equipment he was using never made it back to the company, he disputed the bill. The company kept sending the bill and did not realize the farmer didn’t understand what led to the balance due. It wasn't until we could talk more with the company and the farmer that each side realized what had happened. Once we got to the raw data of the situation, the parties could look at options to clear the record. Sometimes when parties get to underlying information, one of them realizes the depth of the misunderstanding and apologies naturally arise. Once we connect as human beings looking at shared information, opportunities for happy outcomes multiply.
So this Holiday Season, remember every now and then to take off your "glasses" and consider looking at a situation or person with an intention to be curious about the underlying data rather than as a hostage to pre-existing judgments or emotional responses.