Mis(sed) Communication

We all suffer from the preoccupation that there exists… in the loved one, perfection. – Sidney Poitier

I come back to the topic of communication again and again on this blog, because I find its psychology and the role it plays in each of our lives to be fascinating. Communication, or lack thereof, can make or break the most significant relationships in our lives because it’s very easy to get things wrong. To misinterpret. To send or receive things in a way that was never intended.

There are so many interesting facets to communication that I’ve been reading a textbook on it over the last several weeks. (No, I’m not taking a class. Yes, I’m reading it for self-edification. Stop rolling your eyes. I happen to know I can use all the understanding I can get on this particular subject.)

One of the most interesting topics of discussion thus far has been irrational thinking, and how fallacies impact the way communications function. A fallacy is a mistaken belief, or if you prefer, a faulty line of reasoning which leads to an illogical conclusion.

These conclusions are often the root of emotions that debilitate us and impede effective communications. While we’re mostly unaware that we’re functioning under these fallacies, you’d be surprised at how easily recognizable they are when you put the concepts under a microscope.

Here’s one to consider: the fallacy of perfection. I’ve actually talked about this idea before, in an earlier post titled Diamond in the Rough, although at the time I didn’t realize that there was a name for this particular phenomenon.

The fallacy of perfection occurs when we believe that a skillful communicator should be able to manage any interaction with grace and sensitivity. It doesn’t matter if you’re hit with information that blindsides you, hurts your feelings or makes you angry: you should react appropriately and with wisdom in all circumstances.

Wouldn’t that be ideal? Well, yes, of course it would. Is it realistic? No, of course it’s not.

We’re only human, after all. We all have feelings and emotions. Sometimes we react in a way that we long to change after the fact, and we replay the moment over in our heads, cringing at our lack of perfect response. (To be fair, some of these moments are pretty cringeworthy.)

But you must reject an internal dialogue that insists a poor response means  a.) that you’re a failure and b.) the situation is irretrievably hopeless and unforgivable. THIS is the fallacy of perfection; that communication must be perfect to be worthwhile. It’s simply not true. What’s more, our relationships often grow deeper when we don’t have the “correct” response to every situation. We sometimes have to thrash through our emotions and differences to have a better understanding of each other.

That type of conflict resolution requires us to give and receive grace in difficult times.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean anyone gets a free pass to respond poorly in the moment and then go back to clean up the mess later—you can’t make a habit of that if you want to maintain healthy relationships. Part of having healthy relationships,  however, is recognizing that a bad interaction does not need to be a deal breaker between two people who are invested in caring for and supporting each other.

The most important part of learning from and repairing a miscommunication is understanding your own role in the process. If there’s an interaction that’s nagging at your consciousness:

  1. Think about how you contributed to the miscommunication, and practice empathy. Ask yourself, “In their place, how would I have reacted?”
  2. Be courageous and approach the issue head-on. Who are you kidding? It’s the elephant in the room anyway.
  3. Identify the issue and the role you feel you played. “I feel like our relationship is strained right now because I reacted poorly when you (insert one of a thousand scenarios here)”.
  4. Let them know that your goal is harmony and resolution and ask for their perspective—and forgiveness.
  5. Listen to their response—and be prepared to hear things you don’t like or that are unflattering. This is a dialogue. They’re not following your script.

Keep this in mind, too: when you initiate a discussion of the issue, you’re at an advantage because you’ve had time to consider your approach and responses. It’s fine to hope for grace and forgiveness, but be aware that you might not get it, at least not right away. It may take time for the other person to work through their own response to the miscommunication.

Remember that fallacy of perfection? It applies to them, too.

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