Recently, I participated in a meeting for an organization where I serve as one of the leaders. During the meeting, one person made a statement of opinion. Then another member countered with their opinion. Pretty soon, the two of them were engaged in a heated discussion. Both of them were arguing their positions relative to the other persons.
As I sat and listened to this interchange, it occurred to me that the first person did not thoroughly understand the perspective of the second person. Because of the misunderstanding, he launched into a long explanation of his perspective and how the other person should adjust theirs.
Person number two realized that person number one misunderstood his point, and he attempted to clarify it.
Sadly, person number one was emotionally invested at this point, and he literally could not hear or understand the other person's perspective. As a result, the heated exchange continued far longer than it should have.
If person number one had asked one simple question to begin the dialogue, I believe things would have turned out quite differently. If he had stated his understanding of the other person's perspective and then asked if he understood correctly, I think the whole conversation would have proceeded in calmer, less emotionally charged direction.
Rather than launching into a monologue about how the other person viewed things wrong, he could have started this way: “If I understood correctly, your concern is _____. Is that correct?”
This simple statement of understanding followed by a question to allow for clarification could have prevented the whole ugly interchange.
As the scenario played out in our meeting, the elevation of emotion over a misunderstanding blocked the first person's ability to hear the second person's attempts to clarify.
Here's the learning point, we don't always understand what people intend to communicate just because we heard the words they used. Acknowledging that our understanding could be flawed, creates the emotional space for clarification that will head off many unnecessary conflicts.
I don't propose that this approach will stop every conflict. I do suggest it will help eliminate many miscommunications that could easily escalate to conflict.
As you go through this week and interact with others, I encourage you to question your understanding. When you feel your emotions rise in response to what someone says, remember to ask for clarification. You just might have heard it wrong.
Image courtesy www.sxc.hu.