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Being Misunderstood

There are different levels of misunderstanding, but they’re never fun to deal with. The worse part of being misunderstood is when you say something that’s taken negatively, but you didn’t really mean what you said in the way the receiver perceived it. It’s a potentially dangerous situation because feelings can get hurt, no matter how many times you explain that you didn’t mean what you said in the way the person thought you meant it.

This doesn’t always mean that the speaker is entirely in the clear. I recently had a situation where a good friend took something I said wrong, and it took me a very long time to convince her that I hadn’t meant what I said in the way she took it. It was important to me that she understand and believe me, because I care very much about preserving our friendship. In the end she said she believed me, but in the back of my mind I still wonder if everything is truly okay. Will those same words come back to haunt me one day? I can’t take them back; all I can do is continue to maintain that I didn’t mean to hurt her.

The situation did make me resolve to be more careful in the future. I have a habit of blurting things out sometimes without taking the time to think about possible consequences. Words are so powerful. It doesn’t matter in what form they leave your body — whether through your lips as spoken syllables or through your fingers for the purposes of being read — they have the power to change things. How is the other person going to interpret what you say? Even if you didn’t mean what you said negatively, there’s always a possibility it could be taken that way.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Jul July 24, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    I’ve spent 7 years living in cultures outside of my own. So, yes. 🙂

  • Reply ally bean July 24, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Yes, I’ve been misunderstood in some situations at certain times. Often I’ve found that those who don’t understand me are doing it on purpose so that they’ll have something to complain about. They know what I’m saying, yet prefer to be contrary and attack me and my alledgedly “wrong” words. It’s made me a very wary animal in some situations– and very aware of what a person’s true intention is when he or she say that he or she doesn’t understand what I’m saying.

  • Reply jen July 24, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    this is something that has come up a lot for me, since i’m very outspoken and i also don’t generally interpret and view things as most people do… my view is that the weight of the responsibility is on me to say things in a way so that they won’t be misunderstood by my particular audience. i definitely don’t think it’s enough to say “the way you understood it is not what i meant.”

    people are so different and have such a wide range of different experiences and worldviews that you can’t just go around speaking off the cuff without being sensitive to how others are going to HEAR what you are saying. yes, sometimes a person’s interpretation of your words is just way off-base and irrational, but usually from their particular point of view there is some reason why they understood it that way. even when they are being irrational in how they interpret our words, i think we are better served by trying to understand the other person’s point of view than in trying to convince them “that’s not what i meant.”

  • Reply Nadine July 24, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    I have to agree with Jul on the intercultural thing. Even the difference between the way Americans and Dutch communicate is very different. Two wealthy western countries.

    I’m sure you’ll best best friends with your girlfriend again. If she really knows you, she’ll see you did not mean what you said. Sometimes we pick the wrong words to say what’s in our minds or hearts.

  • Reply Ron July 24, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Have you ever belonged to a family? I rest my case.

  • Reply sunchaser July 24, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    That’s a great quote by McClosky! I remember reading his books as a child, they were awesome.

    I have a tendency to blurt things out too. I do know that people do have different tolerances for feedback (whether constructive or not). It’s also possible that your friend may be more sensitive than most people?

  • Reply F.C.T.P. July 24, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    I’m quite sure that your friend was just as much at fault as you were. Keep in mind that she may have misunderstood you and then overreacted to that misunderstanding. It is important to remember that each of you may take certain words in a different way, but overreacting without first seeking clarification, at least in this case, probably led to the dispute becoming more heated than it needed to be.

    I’m also sure that your friend has taken your apology seriously and does believe that the disagreement can be put behind the two of you. A question that needs to be asked though is, have you forgiven her for overreacting?

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