"I've Been Misunderstood!"


Monique read me the riot act recently over another misunderstanding! She had to make a quick trip into the school to retrieve some papers for one of the grandsons. I told her that I would remain in the semi-circular driveway. However, when I saw some parents coming behind me to pick up their children. I decided to pull forward a little so they could easily get the children into their cars. When she came out the door, she didn’t see me in the growing line of cars. She assumed that I had moved to the adjacent parking area and walked to it. 

Waiting and fuming with each passing minute, she finally called my cell. I held the phone away from my ear when her voice became louder, “Where are you? I have been waiting here and looking all over for you! You told me you'd be right outside the door!" I tried responding in a playful, but sensitive way, “I’m in the driveway just outside the door in front of the line. It’s the white Buick with our initials on the license plate!" "Come! Pick me up," she interrupted. It was obvious, she was not amused, but she was very unhappy with me… AGAIN!!😒 I wisely replied, "I'll be right there!" 

Misunderstandings are repeatable drama in our day-to-day communication these days. It's becoming a staple feature of our senior years of day-to-day relating! It gives us something to talk about in the evenings and a further reason for some laughter and even confession of miscommunication... at least on my part!

After this benevolent scolding, I read around the subject of understanding and being misunderstood. One of the most notable statements regarding understanding has been made by Stephen Covey in his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey summarized this principle of interpersonal relations, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." He further reminded how "Most people listen with the intent to reply and not to understand." I plead guilty as charged!

Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, suggests that self-awareness and self-regulation equip us to become better at empathetic listening. As we learn to suspend judgment and remain quietly responsive, this allows us to put others first and put ourselves "in another's shoes."  All of this contributes to hearing first, then answering with empathy and understanding.

What if you feel you have been misunderstood? Here are some suggestions...
  • Remember, you're not a victim or the injured party! You're just misunderstood! Take responsibility for any miscommunication. Acknowledge this by saying, "I'm sorry for not being clear about this."
  • Then, explain yourself. Do take into account that clarity usually means keeping it "short and simple." This is not an occasion for "over-explaining!"
  • Thirdly, understand that people often hear through their own needs and experiences. Thus, it is important to show empathy and "feel what they are feeling." It is always good to admit, "I know you are upset."
  • Finally, kindly request that the other person share what they understand about the matter. Please do this without annoying them. No one wants a lesson in communication when they are upset.
Remember to generously sprinkle these suggestions with your own active listening, sincere empathy and a willingness to understand the other side of the misunderstanding. 

·     Jesus was a master communicator! He often used parables or life stories to illustrate truth about the Kingdom of God. While these stories were captivating, they could also be easily misunderstood. It was a common occurrence for Jesus' disciples to request a sidebar conversation with Him after sharing a particularly complex story. A parable on the nature of the kingdom illustrates the need for an explanation. (Matthew 13:24-30). Knowing their limited understanding, the disciples simply asked Jesus, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." (Matthew 13:36). 

We know that this sidebar of instruction and explanation is still available to believers through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. (John 14:17).  Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth has come "to guide you into all truth." (John 16:13). When you seek understanding, pray and ask God to speak to your heart. The Spirit is always working to reveal God's truth and purposes. Many times the sidebar should begin with this admonition,  "Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance... The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." (Proverbs 1:5,7 NIV).

Misunderstandings are inevitable in relating. Pray that God will equip you to deal with them. When it comes to God's guidance for these daily interactions with others, the Bible is the guidebook. As you read the Scriptures, don't hesitate to seek the Spirit's sidebar of instruction!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent. 
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com 


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