“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
― C.G. Jung
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” – Henry David Thoreau
I wish communication were as simple as me saying, “I hope you have a great day” and the person I’m talking with hearing exactly as I intended, “I hope you have a great day.”
Unfortunately it is not that simple
When I speak, both my verbal and non-verbal forms of communication go through my filter and then are received first by passing through the listener’s filter. The information is ultimately distorted by both filters. My intention may be to send a supportive message but depending on the way both filters are set, the message may land on the listener in a way that does not sound supportive.
What do I mean by filters?
What I hear and how I am perceived is filtered through:
How I feel that day
My family history
How I feel about you
How I feel about myself
How I was treated as a child
(and the list goes on and on)
For example, someone could ask “Do you need help with that?” and depending on the filters in play, I could respond: “Yes, thank you, that would be great” or I could say, “You think I can’t do this myself?” I could also ignore the person, roll my eyes or provide a sarcastic response.
I’ve been guilty of hearing an accusation or a criticism when that was not what was intended and then getting defensive causing tension in the relationship. Or, I’ve assumed that I knew what the person meant and responded incorrectly.
Recently, I asked someone how many pets they had just because I was curious and the person responded, “I know I have too many.” I was confused by the response because I had not intended to convey that there they had too many pets (I love animals and the more the merrier). But, that sentence passed through our filters and did not land as I had hoped.
Misunderstandings can and do happen that easily.
What might help with this? First you have to know you have a filter and understand how it operates (which can change from day to day). Again, self awareness is essential to healthy living and healthy relationships. Second, ask questions to clarify using kind curiosity.
Always ask kind questions (kindly not defensively) rather than assuming.
For example, if someone asks if I need help and I find myself feeling defensive, I can ask “Do I look overwhelmed?” or “Do I seem too busy?” In doing this, I am trying to kindly understand their intentions. In my experience, people usually just want to be helpful and feel needed but sometimes we can perceive the offering of assistance as some failure on our part (our filters at work) and this can cause unnecessary friction in the relationship.
If you notice a distortion in communication you can attempt to set it right by clarifying your intention. I could have said to the person in the above example, “Oh! I love animals and the more the merrier.”
If you offend someone you can always apologize with complete understanding that it was not your intention to hurt them but between the filters something was distorted.
I think defensiveness is a major clue that your filter is dirty and might need some attention. In my experience, if you If you notice that you get reactive and defensive in a lot of your interactions, people are going to be less inclined to want to interact with you. Maybe try to examine your filter and see if some kind questions, clarification and patience might improve your connections.