Miles Davis once said, “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.” That quote stuck with me and I have repeated this phrase and variations of it when talking about interpersonal conflict, and how we often react to misunderstandings because we missed what the other person meant or where they were coming from. You, like I, have undoubtedly encountered many situations when that occurs. In fact, it is easy to misinterpret what others say, if we don’t have a context, a relationship built on trust, cultural similarities or understandings, openness, or the same senses of humours or appreciation for the other’s. Further, disparate values and beliefs, biases, mindsets, life experiences, and many other variables have an impact on our understanding of one another – what they say, what they do, how they interact, and so on. Essentially, we are not them and they are not us – so how can we understand everything they say or do?
It is often the case that we assume we know what people are saying and why – and react accordingly. We use our lens, our values, our expectations, our hopes, and other frames to interpret what we are hearing or seeing. If we know the other person well many of our perceptions are validated by the history we have with them, though we may not be absolutely clear on everything. That said, our assumptions are often within the realm of possibility if we have a close relationship. In these cases, when we disagree or adversely experience what they are saying or doing, we are more apt to engage the other person in a conversation – to gain a better understanding of their words or actions. When we don’t know people well or the relationship is breaking down, lack of connection and incorrect attributions preclude building trust and developing a relationship in which it feels safe to raise questions and discuss what is going on. In either case, the continuing unknown can result in growing tension and ongoing dissension, in developing more and more adverse assumptions, in questioning our judgement, in faltering trust in the other person – and even ourselves.
This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog suggests you consider a conflict situation – an argument that evolved because it was clear you and the other person did not understand one another – or, at least, one of you didn’t get what the other was meaning.
- What misunderstanding happened that resulted in an argument?
- As far as you can tell, what did you specifically misunderstand about the other person? The situation? The interaction between you?
- For what reasons might the other person have said or done that which has caused you upset?
- What words might you use besides upset?
- What would you prefer the other person had said or did instead, in this circumstance?
- What did the other person seem to misunderstand about you? The situation, The interaction between you?
- What seemed to be causing that person upset – such as, how might they have interpreted what you said or did?
- What other words might the other person use to describe their experience in that conflict with you – from what you can tell?
- What do you need from the other person to be able to move on? What might the other want or need from you to move on?
- What are you most curious about right now?
- What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
- What insights do you have?