Communication was the theme at a recent meet-the-candidates meeting, prior to some local elections. We’d all be more effective if everybody would communicate better, they were saying.
Many a confusion could be demystified if we learnt to communicate better. Marriages could be safer, wars could be averted, the Minister of Finance might be heard to say he was abolishing taxes, and the All Blacks might start winning again.
I was returning from Whitianga with my family. We got stuck behind one of these SUV four-wheel-drive vehicles, towing a massive boat. The road wound back and forth, up and down hill – and we couldn’t get past this guy. I expected the driver to pull over – do the courteous thing and let me past. I sat on his tail. Surely he’d see me in his mirror and let me past. But he didn’t. I began to beat on my steering wheel with my fists – thump, thump, thump – but to no avail.
“Settle down, Simon*,” said my wife at my side.
“Moron!” I hissed. “No, not you, dear,” I added hastily.
I flashed my lights and muttered under my breath. Eventually, as we slowed down at one particularly windy bit, I honked my horn.
The SUV slowed to a stop in the middle of the road, and this giant, angry sumo wrestler got out. The guy was at least 150kg. Shaved head, tattoos all down his arms, and UGLY …. He stood there with his arms folded and his legs astride, daring me to get out of the car.
You see, he hadn’t heard me right. When I’d tooted I’d only been saying, “Toot, toot, excuse me, Sir, but would you kindly please let me sneak by?” Whereas he’d thought I’d said, “PARP, PARP! Get off the road you great yuppie ignoramus and make way for a REAL driver!”
He’d misunderstood my message.
Anyway, fortunately I was able to drive our car between his legs, and we managed to escape. But it just goes to show how miscommunication can have dangerous consequences.
Sometimes Person A says something to Person B, but Person B hears something quite different. It’s particularly common in family situations.
While we were at Whitianga we were staying in a caravan. About nine o’clock one night I was sitting there reading and my wife decided to go outside, and she left the door open.
“Oi,” I called. “You’ve left the door open.” Note, no exclamation mark.
You see, what I meant was, “Lucy*, dearest …. sweetest thing. Would you mind terribly if I got up and shut the door that you’ve inadvertently left open?”
But she thought I meant,
“You hopeless, useless woman! You’ve deliberately and maliciously left the door open, just to annoy me!”
Just a little miscommunication, see ….
Well, she appeared instantly. And I understood her meaning, full well. Then she didn’t speak to me again for …. well, the next words she said were, “Settle down, Simon,” as we sat behind the sumo wrestler with the boat.
Our words can get us into trouble. It’s about agendas, I reckon. Person A speaks according to her agenda; Person B hears according to his agenda. And sometimes there’s a total mismatch of agendas.
What’s to be done? Well, I’m no expert, as you’ve read. There must be some counsellors or psychologists around with some answers! But I think you have to be ready to back down – be prepared to accommodate the other person’s agenda.
I’m reminded of the medieval scientist, Copernicus. He declared to the world, in 1530, that the sun was the centre of the universe, not the earth. But the Church, very powerful in society at that time, wouldn’t have it. Church policy was that the earth was the centre of the universe. (Churches have policies like that.)
“Recant, or we’ll burn you at the stake!” said the Church.
“Fine, fine,” said Copernicus. “I was only kidding.”
He was prepared to forego his own agenda, for the sake of peace …. and survival.
There’s wisdom here somewhere.
* All names changed to protect the author.