There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is wilfully to misunderstand them.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
With so much unintentional miscommunication amongst we mere mortals, why would someone purposefully decide not to understand another? Don’t get me wrong; I’ve without a doubt been guilty of the same. But why? What is it that spurs one to selectively choose which comments to twist into something else?
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, Zen Master and famous author purports in The Art of Communicating that communication affects our outlook just as food affects our bodies. We’ve all experienced the negative array of emotions that spill forth (or threaten to) when either we are misunderstood or we misunderstand another. Our whole day – if we let it – becomes tainted with this frustration. Where once we saw beauty in the weather/temperature/people we now see the very same things in the negative. If communication can feed a soul, then the distortion of it can also starve it.
But people do. They love each other and they misunderstand on purpose and they fight and then suddenly they aren’t the same one.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Consider the (underlying?) reasons one chooses to twist an otherwise comfortable conversation. Does the culprit see s/he self as coy? Cute? Funny? Or is this a method of control to feed the ego? In the book Talking at Cross-purposes: The Dynamics of Miscommunication, author Tzanne explores possible triggers of miscommunication. Perhaps an individual’s history moves him/her to alter the meaning and there is no hidden motive. Exploring the times I have chosen to misunderstand enables me to see my reasons for doing so. Discovering those reasons in any given situation are excellent indicators of the appropriateness of it (or not).
“Misunderstanding is generally simpler than true understanding, and hence has more potential for popularity.”
― Raheel Farooq
But is all miscommunication intentional? No, of course not. In Misunderstanding the Social Life, authors House, Kasper and Ross argue that three forms of miscommunication exists:over, covert and latent. These pathways to misunderstanding may not all lead to frustration after all. For example, comedians typically twist words and stories in such a way that the audience is clearly involved, eliciting a laugh. Sometimes double entendres serve this purpose but other times the use of them can be perceived as a frustrating method of discourse. (Read more about these various forms of miscommunication by clicking on the link above.)
The very culture of western civilization (and quite possibly all of it) is to become defensive when someone is “left out” and instead of seeing a statement for what it is, one is tempted to see it as a form of judgement against others. For example, The University of Alberta’s student union experienced negative feedback in regards to supporting women’s equality: “They [the opposers] ignore the fact that feminist discourse shows an understanding that these issues do not only affect women.” (The Concordian)
Somewhere between love and hate lies confusion, misunderstanding and desperate hope.”
― Shannon L. Alder
Despite the seemingly insurmountable levels of communication – ahem, lack thereof – it is beneficial to remember that those with which we attempt discourse may have not solely personal history that triggers a double-entendre (for example) but our perception of their apparent attempt to thwart an otherwise healthy conversation may be skewed. Cindy King advises to consider the conversant may have different values, habits and style of talking.
In the end, the only person we can change is ourselves. This will not change others on our behalf, but it will enable us to more easily flow through the discourse of intentional miscommunication.
- Forbes – “The 8 Powerful Communication Secrets Every Person Can Use“
- Huffington Post – “The Art of Mindful Communication“
- Kevin Hogan Resource Center – “Communication“
- Succeed Socially – “Bitterness About Being Socially Misunderstood“
- Excel at Life – “Why Are People Mean?”
- Hippie Bob & the Chocolate Factory: A True Tale