Communication Is Open To Interpretation

Communication is a very complex concept. All the time, people come back to me and tell me they did something ‘you told me to do’, or that they told their partner ‘what you said.’

I love when they communicate this feedback and ask them what it was I said. It’s funny because nine times out of ten, they say something I would never in a million years say. It’s all been interpreted through their thoughts and stories. Most of the time it is benign and no biggie, it can even have really helped them. But once in a while it makes them judge themselves.

communication - using your love to heal

Communication delivery

It confirms to me that we must take the utmost care what we communicate to people, AND even if we do, we may offend them anyway.

So how much responsibility do we take for our communication?

So many times when I meet with couples, one partner tells the other she feels  insulted and the first partner says I am doing it “for your own good.” Or a father who tells his daughter that she needs to lose weight, is “telling her because he is worried about her.” If their intentions are in the right place, does that make them not responsible for the hurt those comments caused?

(Another good example, is when a stranger in a store give you unsolicited parenting advice when you are dealing with you children.)

Yes, they are responsible. We all ought to be responsible for what we say and also get feedback to make sure the person took it in as we attended, so we have opportunity to clarify and apologize if we need to. So often we don’t do this (I–in my rush–fail to do this, too, sometimes).

But even if we do take care to do this, the other person’s negative voices can still change the meaning.  And aside from reassuring them, we may feel helpless to stop it.

Critiques and Misunderstanding in Communication

I think people would be better off if we believed in them for what they can do rather than give them unsolicited advice that could sound judgmental, affect their self esteem, and make it ever more difficult for them to change. If they are wracked with self doubt, critiques can be used against them in their minds, keeping them stuck or worse, moving them backwards. For example, I am working with a 21 year old who wanted to help her mother get away from her alcoholic step father. Now, the mom can interpret it as her daughter loves her and thinks she is worthy, and this can lift her up, but since she is already full of shame, where do you think her mind will go?

The more she tells her mom to leave him the more the mom feels humiliation and self contempt. And this could have her evermore stuck.

If your intentions are good, try to read your audience. Make sure your comments are for them and not for you.

Outside of that you can be as careful and conscious as possible and still you’ll be misunderstood once in a while, because you have no control over what story the other person is interpreting it through.

Communication reception

On the receiving end, if someone says something upsetting to us, we have to give people the benefit of the doubt because we could be interpreting them wrong. Try to think of all different ways they could be meaning it. Then, think about what hurt may be going on for them that is behind those words. It is sometimes not even about you. (If they are abusive it is definitely not about you.)

And then think of what hurt you have that makes you interpret it the way you do.  This doesn’t mean disregard ALL feedback people give you. If you are not drown by guilt, this feedback could be an opportunity to tweak something about yourself. Welcome it.

I think misunderstandings cause most problems in relationships. We can avoid this by checking in with each other about what things mean. Don’t hesitate!

I am sure you all have great examples of mis-interpretation! Do share some in the comments!

24 thoughts on “Communication Is Open To Interpretation”

  1. Good post, Jodi. It helps to get to know people better, even people we think we already know well. Asking questions, listening more, talking less, trying to understand what it’s like to walk in their shoes all take practice. You’ve got some good food for thought here. Thanks.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Thanks, Liz, A little effort goes a LONG way! But sometimes we are too tired and have too many excuses not to… It’s time to get some energy, and I know we’d get it back in mutlifold!

  2. I can’t even count the number of times where I’ve really wanted to have a candid conversation with someone who is important to me, only to hold off because I fear how they’ll interpret it, or if it even serves our relationship for me to say it. It’s so tricky. On one hand, you don’t want to let things build up inside you (and for me, I’m all about being honest and direct, too), but sometimes my gut just tells me that the person wouldn’t take it well, no matter how careful I was. I like your approach of putting your attention on the things they do well when it’s too hard to broach the other topics.
    Laura Zera recently posted..Let Me Give You a Quarter for the ShoesMy Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I know what you mean. I have written many of thing and then asked Spirit if I should send and got a no. I trust that. Sometimes we have to validate ourselves. Trying and failing to get another person to validate us can leave us worse than we started.

  3. Hi Jodi,

    Just had this experience where someone thanked me for what I said, and I didn’t recognize that at all! But I also know that sometimes when I’m listening to someone else, my mind will take off thinking about one aspect of the talk. Later, I can’t remember if the speaker said it or I thought it!

    Thanks for a great reflection.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I totally know what you mean! I guess that explains it. They remember where it takes them in their mind. EVERYTHING is influence by meaning and that meaning is influenced by our experience and our meaning of past experiences!
      Thanks so much for coming and commenting. It means so much!

  4. Most of the time, it’s not so much what I say to other folk but what I tell myself. That’s what I have to be more careful of. I suppose folk can only interpret what you say based on their own life experiences. If I take advice, I’m gonna ask a buncha questions to make sure I’m following the advice to the letter. That way, I have somebody else to blame ’cause I’m responsible for enough as it is. 🙂
    totsymae101 recently posted..Hello world!My Profile

  5. solidgoldcreativity

    This is an important post, Jodi. Well done.

    So often we literally cannot hear what the other person is saying. We listen to our listening of the person or the situation instead.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      We sometimes are thinking of how we are going to respond. My old teacher told us that we have to separate the said from the saying of it. I have to write a blog post about that sometime. Maybe next week. Glad to see you again!

  6. Hi Jodi,

    I actually misinterpreted a piece of major advice about self-acceptence, just today, so I find it funny that this is the topic of this post. I do feel terrible about how I reacted to this advice and how I reacted was very immature. I do hope this person forgives me.

  7. Jodi, I never thought about it that way, but you’re so right. I remember as a child how it hurt when my father or an adult relative would make a comment about my weight as if it was for my own good. Oh, the angst and embarrassment suffered, and they never seemed to notice or empathize. Sigh.
    Monica recently posted..Singing the Bad Luck Blues–Again!My Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      People really responded to that comment about weight. Three of my clients this week had read that and commented on it. I think it happens to all of us. Pooh!

  8. I don’t know Jodi, It seems like I can’t do or say anything right(according to others). It doesn’t matter if it’s a text, a phone call or an email, I’m always wrong. I say the wrong thing. I feel the wrong way. I do something stupid (like trusting the wrong person). I am having so much trouble communicating with my family, I just want to close all email accounts, unplug the house phone & throw my cell phone out into the street. I’m so emotionally drained from trying to please everyone. I’ve been letting people walk all over me because they paid the retainer for a divorce lawyer. I can’t do it anymore. I’m so tired & I will never be able to repay them. I don’t know how to get rid of the guilt. My family runs on guilt. I need to get off the guilt path & back on my own path & do it with out hurting anyone.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I have this small hunch that your sisters love you and want to help still. Your guilt may blind you from seeing it. They gave you the money because they loved you, they had no false pretenses that you’d have any money to pay them back this fast or maybe ever. They gave it to you. Feel loved and supported, instead of guilty. See their good intentions. Maybe it is them who are not communicating their love as well as they could, or you who feels judged by them instead of the love. I love you honey. I wish I could give you that real live hug you long for. xoxoxoxo

  9. It’s sad that sometimes the people we should be able to trust the most, those inside our families, are those we can trust the least to be gentle and loving. And sometimes we carry that expectation of hurt to other relationships and react badly when other people make innocuous or friendly remarks.

    I’ve learned though, that even if I *think* somebody is trying to tick me off, if I don’t appear to let it get to me, that those kinds of remarks tend to dry up. Somebody says, “You look really nice today,” in what I think is a snide tone, if I just answer, “Thanks,” and redirect to another subject, I haven’t just escalated to WWIII.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted..This Book Changed My Life: When The Body Says NoMy Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I do like how sometimes things can dry up. I was also thinking that sometimes I read something I feel so much contention coming from it. But months later I can read it again, without the anger and read something totally different. It’s so interesting!

  10. It’s so easy to misinterpret what someone says, especially in today’s texting age. You can’t be sure of tone in a text message, so people don’t really know how you meant something to come across. What they infer might not be correct at all.
    Kelly Hashway recently posted..Monday Mishmash 8/12/13My Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I am the wrost culprit, because I am so practical and quick in email and texts and I am sure I sound terrible to the other person. I am trying to be more conscious of this. I know it makes a huge difference to the recipient if I start with Dear and their name, and say some pleasantries besides my question, etc.

  11. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve accidentally offended because of misinterpretation! As I get older though, I’m starting to think more before I speak – I don’t want to be one of those people that “says whatever is on her mind” those people usually aren’t nice.

  12. I very often misunderstand and misinterpret what I’m told, and i know it is related to how I am feeling at the moment. The same thing, said in the same way can seem a compliment (when I’m confident) or a criticism (when I feel bad).

    “checking in with each other about what things mean” is always the best thing to do, but sometimes giving too much explanation (in order to avoid a misunderstanding) can create a problem that wasn’t there at the first place.

    I noticed so many times that the more I try to justify and explain myself the deeper my issue or misunderstanding gets.

  13. Great post! I deal with this from both sides all of the time. People will offer me advice or question me on something and they truly probably do mean it to help, but it can be hurtful (for instance if someone questions a business or personal decision I’ve made). On the flip side, I’ve learned that if I sometimes put my pride and indignation at their up-front-ness aside, when I listen the underlying message, they have a good point and I might be able to learn from it. I think it’s often a matter of knowing how to communicate with someone best, and not everyone has the same preferences. Some people might appreciate a very no-nonsense approach while others might need things communicated to them in a different way. If you can work together to learn the best process (though not possible in all situations, such as the stranger in the store example) you can really improve on both the effectiveness of the communication, and the feelings that result from it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top