I sat out on the porch this afternoon reading a text for my marriage and family therapy class. The sun was shining, winds were gusting, and it felt like spring was here. It was so peaceful and relaxing, in fact, that I might have dozed off once or twice in the warm sunlight. As I wavered on the boundary between wake and sleep, words from the text kept pushing into my mind – “The meaning of the message is the response you receive.”
The meaning of the message is the response you receive.
As I communicate, there is the message I intend to send. I use words, non-verbal cues, body language, tone, and actions to convey love or anger, frustration or joy, and to try to bridge that gap and communicate. Yet when that message does not go through, for whatever reason (misinterpretation, misunderstanding, inattention), as the communicator I have two choices. I can wash my hands of the matter, say “That’s not what I meant to say” in a fit of self-righteous justification, and complain bitterly about how others don’t understand me. Or, I can stop, reframe, and try again using new words, images, intonations, and actions until the message is received.
In other words, we cannot hope to be understood by others unless we first understand them, and how they perceive us.
It’s a simple concept, but one that is not easy to put into practice. St. Francis himself prayed “Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much… to be understood as to understand.” And I wonder, how much conflict, frustration, and miscommunication might we avoid if we practiced this other-centered style of communicating? How would our other relationships change? What would be birthed?