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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom: Who's Responsible for Good Communication?

Thought for the Day: On Wednesdays, I go searching for quotes which often lead me to write a response to a quote. Today, I found a quote on google+ from +Kurt Smith  a counselor from California who works on men's "stuff." Communication between men and women is one of the areas he focuses on. Somehow the quote rubbed me the wrong way. What do you think, are we only responsible for what we say and have no responsibility for what the other person understands? Here are my thoughts...

Kurt Smith's quote, "I am only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand," feels like it could lead to some major arguments. I prefer to think there is an additional step of responsibility in communication, "I am not only responsible for what I say, I'm also responsible to check whether you understood what I said." I get it that some people take too much responsibility for their partner's reactions to what they say. Listeners need to take responsibility as well. However, to be a good communicator, it is important to not only try to be as clear as possible, but also to check if the other person understood what you meant to say.

There are many reasons for misunderstandings between couples. The other person may have been momentarily distracted. How many times have you been caught off guard in the middle of something at work or with your children when your partner calls to tell you something. Last night, I saw a client who had come for hypnosis for smoking cessation.  She left my office, but her husband who had given the therapy as a gift to his wife, came to the door to give me a check. In the one minute interim, just as the client's husband knocked on my door, my husband called me on the phone. I thought he said, "Come upstairs now." I told him I could not and hung up. When I finished with the client, I went upstairs and Jerry had disappeared! I called out, but got no response. So I called him on the phone. When he answered, he said he was on a ladder outside, about to go up on the roof. I asked him why he needed me to come upstairs. He said that he had told me he was going up and just wanted me to know. Obviously, in my hurry, I heard something entirely different.

This is a trivial example of how communications can be misunderstood which would not lead to any harm. He must have said I'm going up and I heard, "Come up." Because I hung up the phone quickly to speak with the client, he did not get a chance to check if I understood that he just wanted me to be aware that he needed to check the roof.

As a therapist, I am always checking to be sure my clients understand what I say to them. At times, even with clear checks, people misunderstand. When I give them the Dream Positioning System (DPS) assignment that helps them to figure out how to accomplish their dreams and goals in life, I am very specific about how to write their DPS. They are asked to work starting with the most distant future goals and then moving towards their action plans of activities which they could do tomorrow. Even though I am very explicit and check whether they understand, some people come back the next week and have only worked on their action plans. Sometimes a misunderstanding like this has implications and could be interpreted as a fear of planning for the future.

Another example of a time when both people need to take more responsibility is when the communication is laden with emotional undertones. A couple I am working with is getting married soon. They have been dating for some time, love each other and get along well dealing with all kinds of challenges. It is the man's 2nd marriage and the woman's third. They both have some unpleasant baggage from previous relationships. Whenever the need for a pre-nuptual agreement or a will come up, to protect the husband-to-be's family business, his children and his future wife, they have trouble speaking about it. He is generous and making all kinds of arrangements for their union to be equal and shared. He plans to provide for her and her children if anything happens to him. She, however, worries she could be hurt like she was by her ex-husband. In this instance, they both need help speaking and clarifying what they are communicating to one another. In emotionally loaded situations like this, people benefit from having a therapist help clarify and work on the past operating and interfering in the present.

When it comes to communication, both parties need to take responsibility for speaking as clearly as possible and checking to see if the other person understood. What are your thoughts? Is their joint responsibility or is it just one person's duty to understand the communications.

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