It was 12AM and we sat around the table on our last night in Yangon, Myanmar sipping on hot chocolates.
There was an excited buzz in the air, as the clock ticked past midnight, our eyes alive in the conversation. It was one of those moments with friends you treasured, wanting to take every moment in.
The conversation soon turned to Buddhism and philosophy – which didn’t surprise me! After all, we were in the country with golden temples that dotted the horizon at sunset.
One of the Burmese gentleman we sat with ended up saying something that’s stuck with me since:
“We're all miscommunicating, all the time. What you want, is to find others who also miscommunicate as well as you do. And call those people your friends.”
Perhaps that’s why we’ve been given two ears and one mouth. To listen more than we talk. To understand more than we seek to be understood.
Because the alternative – where you talk more than you listen and seek to be heard over others – doesn’t always work out as well as we’d hope it to be.
We're all miscommunicating. All the time.
Maybe that’s why we’re torn with all of the information about #BlackLiveMatters at the moment. There’s so much reactivity and shouting that no one’s really listening to anybody else. So what we’re seeing is a lot of reactionary reposting rather than proactive processing. (Yes, I just coined these terms 10 seconds ago.)
Reactionary Reposting: responding to something immediately because the collective is screaming and shouting and jumping up and down about a hot topic or issue. Very easy to do, without much conscious thought; on a whim.
Proactive Processing: the art of intentionally sitting with new information and processing and wrestling with it, to draw new conclusions and upgrade old stories and beliefs before sharing your sermon with the world. Intentional. Conscious contribution and articulation of one’s own thoughts, ideas or interpretations that add value or a perspective or something new to the conversation.
A lot of division and disagreements online (with people about politics, the environment, abortion, guns, vegans we love to hate, the religious folk, the “feminazis”, conspiracy theorists, flat earthers, keto etc.) stem from not being able to first take a moment to sit and listen; to pause and reflect; to breathe and digest.
We're all miscommunicating. All the time.
We can think and believe we’re in agreement with each other, but frankly, my understanding and interpretation of things will always be different to yours. It’s why partners argue over who’s turn it is to take out the trash – each one thinks it’s the other’s turn to do so!
If I were to describe to you the Mona Lisa, I’d describe her differently to how you would, but I’d mention something about her hair and her eyes. How small the painting actually is in the Lourve and that there are much larger, prettier paintings hanging on the wall around her. How there are too many people cramped around to take a photo, with people pushed up against one another, with their armpits in your face. You’d almost wish you’d Google’d the image rather than try to take one indoors with shitty lighting and so many people around you.
You and I could both be there, standing in front of her in Paris, the most famous painting in the whole world, and still not quite see the same thing.
And that's ok, most of the time.
The hardest part in all of this, however, is learning how to miscommunicate well.
No doubt communication is the key to successful friendships and relationship. I coach a lot of people and I can tell you that 90% of relationship problems are communication problems.
So it has to start with us (that includes you and me) to strive to do better.
We must become better listeners.
People who seek to understand others.
Regardless of their race, class, religion, politics, food choices, weight, sex.
“When I die, I hope the people close to me will say they felt I loved them. The rest of it is BS if I miss the boat on that one. My dad needs to know that I love him. My mum, my sisters, my friends, the people I work with: they need to know I love them. And I would like to be the sort of person who loves people unconditionally. The sort of person who loves people even when they hurt me. When they offend me. When they embarrass me.” – Jamie Tworkowski
Communication takes effort.
It’s always intentional.
It's hard (a lot of the time).
We fuck it up, too (including me!).
But we mustn't give up on trying to communicate with those we love and care about most. When the communication starts to dwindle, so does the love, trust and honesty – the very foundations of any relationship.
If we acknowledge that we do indeed miscommunicate with one another, it also means that the ones we care for may misunderstand or misinterpret what we say or do. So we must work harder at communicating in such a way that makes sense to the both of you.
If someone said to you, “I don't want to meet with you today,” sometimes our minds begin to race and fill in the blanks with a thousand reasons as to why our friend cannot meet with us. This kills us!
“Oh shit, they're still pissed at me for what I said last week.”
“He's just blowing me off because I missed his event a month ago.”
“I'm used to him cancelling last minute. It's expected.”
The list goes on.
The problem with the incessant chatter in your head, is that you're often wrong. You have no idea what their reason is unless you ask your friend and trust that they'll be honest and share why it is they can't meet with you today.
It's about miscommunicating well.
There may indeed be a legitimate reason: your friend may be ill, or have an important family commitment or simply doesn't wish to meet up because he's nursing a hangover from the night before.
I like people who don't bullshit.
So if they have a hangover and want to sleep, awesome. I love sleep too.
The conversation in that café in Myanmar that night changed the way I look at communicating with people.
If I've misunderstood someone, I'll apologise immediately because I value the friendship and the person more than my ego or my desire to be right. I’m not here to defend myself. I can happily admit I got it wrong. There’s a real humbling feeling in this process.
If people choose to misunderstand me, then that's ok too. I'll do my best to explain in a way that I can the reasons for my actions and if others don't get it, they weren't meant to. Some people will never understand you, your heart or your message. That’s ok too!
Most of the time, our misunderstanding of people arises simply from associating what someone says or does to a previous experience we’ve had – be that good or bad. Us humans then do an incredible job of projecting those feelings back onto someone. We all do it.
This is where judgement happens and our mind starts to overthink every single little details. It's a killer.
So take some time this week to sit a bit longer in conversation with people.
I promise you that people will tell you their entire life stories if you do that. And you’ll have such a better understanding of how and why that person is the way that they are and does the things they do. It's just a matter of spending a few extra moments holding space for those around us.
Our job is to miscommunicate better with one another.
Amongst all of the craziness right now, the protesting and the heated arguments, deep down we all desire to be loved, seen, heard and understood.
Some questions to ask yourself over the course of the next week:
- How can I be someone who others can confide in?
- How can I show up and love people – even when they’ve hurt me?
- Where can I listen and help understand others who’s beliefs, morals and values fundamentally differ from my own?
- How can I learn from the person who’s right in front of me? How can I be present to their experience and stories (rather than dismissive and unengaged)?
It's all about miscommunicating well.