Saturday, May 2, 2009

When What We Say is Not What People Hear

Did you ever say anything and then realize, hours or even days later, that what you said might have been misinterpreted by someone listening?

I recently said something at a school outing to a woman I don't know very well that I think she may have taken the wrong way. Two things led me to this conclusion: one, the expression and reply of said person, and second, her chilly hello to me at a subsequent meeting!

If this has ever happened to you, you know what it means to feel like an idiot. But then again, if our intentions in what we said were not even remotely related to the meaning that the person took away, why should we feel like an idiot? I think it's that we feel bad--and personally responsible--when something we say is mistakenly and negatively applied by the person we are talking to.

If this is confusing, I guess that's indicative of how confusing communication among humans can be! Intonation, facial expression and words--often ill-chosen in the spur of the moment of conversation--can all convey things that we never intended to convey.

So, what to do about my words that were possibly taken out of their intended meaning? As my husband says, I can't control how people interpret my every word (he also says that most people probably are not even thinking about what I said, and I’m just paranoid!) But still, I think a simple thing to do is next time I see this person, I’ll just bring up the time we were together on the outing and tell her that I hope she didn't take my words the wrong way. If she doesn't know what in the world I'm talking about, I'll know I definitely have some paranoia issues to deal with. But if she does acknowledge that yeah, she was taken aback by my words, then we can clear the air.

What this has taught me is to be more careful and selective in what I say, while at the same time not become obsessed with analyzing every little word in the hopes of not ever being misinterpreted! I'm trying to listen to God and to speak more out of His grace and less out of my reactions, responses, agenda and shooting from the hip. This means that, going forward, the best course of action in conversations and social situations may be to wait, listen, talk less and perhaps, to not even say anything at all.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children..." Ephesians 5:1

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