You have heard me speak before of the incredible complexity of communication between people, how much is truly going on and how vast the chances for miscommunication are. We are limited by our vocabulary and the very nature of imprecise words, using them as representations of large amounts of information, experience and input. And most people you encounter do not realize that there is a challenge to communication at all. They simply live their lives, talking when they need to, assuming everyone understands them or that there is something wrong with the listener if understanding does not occur.
Assumptions can be dangerous, as we know. To assume someone uses the same vocabulary as yourself, and that the words you use represent experience to them the same way they do to you is courting confusion. Add to this the layers of different meaning when there are differences in culture, upbringing, language, etc. and it is a wonder that any communication takes place at all when we talk with each other.
Communication is complicated and requires attention for it to be successful, which leads me to offering a list of a few more useful communication assumptions. If you truly want to connect with another person, whether it is for parenting, romantic or work-related purposes, try some of these new assumptions out.
- Assume they won’t understand unless you are very careful. Put your attention on what you are doing with the goal of being as clear, and as receptive, as possible.
- Assume no one has ever tried to connect with them in an authentic way before. You may be the first person who has ever leaned in with the intention of understanding them. What a gift you are going to give them!
- Assume that their beliefs about life and the world are as common-sense and valid to them as yours are to you, based on the reality that they live in. Even if they don’t make sense to you, don’t discount them out of hand.
- Assume that your communication partner is a magnificent being of wondrous light, with every right to be heard and understood, just as you are. Take a breath, remember that, and the connection will be made. Communication can follow that.
- Assume it is a miracle if communication takes place. Because it is. And when you celebrate the miracle, you honor yourself and your partner for the miracles that you are.
As a species, we are a long way from the time when we depended on body language to communicate, and we can no longer count on the shared experience of a living in small groups to give us common ground. We have developed exotic, complicated communication techniques (speaking and writing) which require expertise to use effectively. Remember these new assumptions and you will find your communication connecting you in a much deeper and richer way than before.