Friday, September 18, 2009

How do we know?


My friend Mary from the Netherlands is staying at my house with her fiancee, Brian. When she and Brian arrived three weeks ago, I showed them the house, the kitchen, where our food is stored. I invited them to make themselves at home and use whatever was available.

Today, Mary asked me if she could take some of the chewing gum I that I keep in the kitchen. I responded with: "Are you kidding? Off course! I thought I made clear that everything is available to you!" Mary smiled her big smile and grabbed the gum.

This little situation got me thinking about how differently people communicate with each other.

Mark and I have created a fully authentic relationship. This is a relationship in which we say what is on our minds, what we want or don't want, what we like, etc. The result is that things are very clear and easy.

If Mark says that he loves the food I cooked, I do not respond with "are you sure, didn't it need some more salt?" because I believe he genuinely made a compliment.

If he says, "here, eat the last brownie", I believe he's offering me the last brownie without reservation, and so I do not ask: "are you sure? It's the last one..."

I will more likely respond with "ohh, thank you" or "That's sweet, but I don't want one".

Mark and I use the same kind of communication with the people we meet and hang out with.

Sometimes this leads to communication challenges because the people around us might not communicate the same way. For example, when I told Mary and Brian that they could use whatever was available, that is what I meant. But I do not really know how Brian and Mary translated that comment. Maybe they took me at my word; maybe they decided that I said this, but meant something else; maybe they made up something totally different...

So, my question to ponder is: "how do we overcome communication challenges when the different parties do not know that the challenge exists in the first place?"

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about this subject...

1 comment:

  1. Do we ever know what people take from what we are saying?

    how about changing "act like at home" to:
    if you feel like eating or having some tea - please serve yourself - and clean when you are done... and other detailed phrases.

    Working in an international environement does teach me to ask more questions than I would usually do, but maybe I should generalise it, and ask more questions in general...

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