This past December a busy attorney named Valentina and her 10-year-old son, Marco, moved into their new home in New England. The winter season was already in full effect, and a massive snowstorm swept through the area the morning after they moved, closing all the schools.
Although young students like Marco suddenly had the day off from school, Valentina still needed to visit her office for a couple hours to finish up some important paperwork with a new client. So, despite the snowstorm, Valentina drove to work, leaving Marco in their nearly snowed-in home to write a short essay that was assigned by his teacher to make up for the missed school day.
Shortly after Valentina arrived at her office she received a text message from Marco that read: “Windows completely frozen. Will not open.”
Valentina squinted at her phone in confusion, because she couldn’t fathom why Marco wanted to open any of the windows. But she was really busy and about to head into a business meeting with her client, so she didn’t have time to sort out the details. She quickly texted Marco a simple fix she had learned as a young girl growing up in the mountains: “Warm up a cup of water in the microwave, pour it evenly over the edges, then lightly tap the edges with a mallet.”
Valentina then hurried into her business meeting. While she was working with her client she felt her phone vibrate a few times from new text messages, and when the meeting was over an hour later, she read the text messages.
The first text from Marco read, “What? Are you sure that works?”
Then, “Please hurry up! I have to turn in my essay soon!”
Finally, “The laptop is dead!”
Confused by the messages, Valentina called Marco. He picked up, irritated and distraught.
“First… what’s wrong with the laptop?” Valentina asked.
“I don’t know,” Marco replied. “I poured warm water over all of its edges and tapped them with a mallet, just like you told me to. But now it won’t even turn on,”
Valentina suddenly realized her 10-year-old son’s initial text message was not about the windows of their new home… rather, he had texted her about the Windows operating system that runs his laptop computer! Marco’s laptop was simply frozen… but now, thanks to a cup of warm water and the light tapping of a mallet, it was indeed dead!
In life, in business, and in our relationships, the biggest mistakes can arise from the smallest misunderstandings. We can avoid these misunderstandings with a simple approach: slow down, listen to others, and clarify what they mean. Yes, it will take a few more moments of your time. But it will also save you from painful headaches and heartache later on! (Angel and I build “better communication” habits with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Mantras to Stop Misunderstandings
Truth be told, much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left miscommunicated.
We know this.
We know misunderstandings tear us apart.
We know healthier communication leads to healthier relationships.
And yet we forget.
We forget to make time for each other.
We forget to be present.
We forget to really listen.
Day after day, we collectively misunderstand each other into hundreds of unnecessary headaches and heartbreaking mistakes.
And, like you, I’m only human – I still miscommunicate and misunderstand people, especially when I’m in a hurry. So I’ve implemented a simple strategy to support the practice of paying better attention to the people in my life. In a nutshell, I proactively remind myself of the truths I already know but often forget. Anytime I catch myself avoiding a conversation I know I need to have with someone, I pause and read the following mantras to myself (I have them stored in the Notes on my iPhone). Then I tune in to this person with full presence…
- The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
- Too often we don’t listen to understand – we listen to reply. Don’t do this. Focus. Be curious. When we listen with genuine curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply – we listen for what’s truly behind the words.
- When you hear only what you want to hear, you’re not really listening. Listen to what you don’t want to hear too. That’s how we grow stronger, together.
- You never know what someone has been through today. So don’t be lazy and make empty judgments about them or their situation. Be kind. Be teachable. Be a good friend. Be a good neighbor. Be a good listener.
- Sometimes all a person needs is an empathetic ear – they just need to know someone else hears them. Simply offering a listening ear and a kind heart for their suffering can be incredibly healing. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Do not make assumptions unless you undoubtedly know the whole story. If in doubt, ask the person directly until you have clarity.
- When you take the time to actually listen, with humility, to what people have to say, it’s amazing what you can learn. Especially if the people who are doing the talking also happen to be the people you love.
Honestly, if Angel and I had a dollar for every time we’ve heard about an unfortunate life situation directly caused by a combination of excessive busyness and poor communication, we would be able to send everyone we know an inscribed gold plaque of Valentina and Marco’s story as a wake-up call.
Let it be YOUR wake-up call!
Please leave a comment below to let us know:
What’s one small misunderstanding that turned into a big mistake in your life, or in the life of someone you know? How might slowing down, listening more closely, and clarifying things have changed this scenario’s outcome?
Anything else to share?
We would love to hear from YOU. 🙂
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