Thursday, April 7, 2011

What we say vs. what they hear

Today I want to talk about what we say to someone and what they hear from us. Life experience tells us that sometimes these are two very different things!

In communication terms this refers to CONTENT and RELATIONAL level messages.

The content level is the words we say. The relational level is what we mean by what we say. And this level is often the most important because it reflects how we feel about the relationship. As I'm sure you can imagine, what you mean (relational level) by the message (content level) and what the other person thinks you mean might be two very different things.

Let's look at an example. Let's say your husband says "Is that what you are wearing to go out?" Those words, all by themselves, are the content level. On the surface this is a simple question with a yes/no answer.

Women, however, don't hear the message as a simple yes/no question. They interpret this as "I don't like what you are wearing" or "you look awful" or "you look fat" or .... you get the idea. Even further, though, some women may hear that their spouse thinks they can't make clothing decisions, or that their spouse is not satisfied with them (relational level message).

Our interpretation of the message is based in part on our husband's nonverbal cues. If he gives us a look with raised eyebrows and a scowl, we know that he does not like our outfit. If he peers around (or worse, asks us to turn around so he can see everything), we believe he thinks we look fat. So, how someone sends a message says a lot about how the receiver will interpret the message...and the sub-text of our relationship.

Can you see how hurtful...and helpful... this might be in a marriage?

Skill4U: As you interact with your spouse for the next two days, spend time focusing on YOUR content and relational level messages. Don't worry too much about how you are interpreting his messages right now. Focus on the words you are saying and what you mean to say (in the moment, and about your relationship). Try to get the two to line up (remember the post on 'mean what you say'?) This weekend I'll give some tips for interpreting.

Happy Communicating~

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