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He Said, She Heard: Communication Breakdown

By Tiffany Twist

It starts young, as babies. We learn communication from our parents starting with single words--mama, dada. Then we add adjectives, big boy, nice kitty. And even though we learn and speak the same language--English, French, German--we also learn sub-languages, languages that may differ so greatly we can clog communication as if speaking to a foreigner, or worse, because with a foreigner we expect to not understand, and we expect to understand when we communicate with someone speaking our own language.

It starts like this: Two households on the same street. Billy in the first house, Susie in the second house, both are a year old. And both have a pet.

In the first house, behind four walls and a closed door, Billy sits on the rug with his little furry Buddy as his dad exclaims daily, "damn dog, damn dog, damn dog."

In the second house, behind four walls and a closed door, every time young Susie looks at her Belle, mama says, "cute puppy, cute puppy, cute puppy."

Now, twenty years later Billy and Susie get married. They get their first dog and have a very different vocabulary to describe the very same dog. Hopefully Susie can stand to hear Billy call her little Ralphy, "damn dog," and Billy can stand Susie addressing his rough, tough, best friend, "cute puppy."

Amongst relationships, we seem to always run into, "you said this," " but, I meant that." "No, you said this, and it means such and such." "That doesn't mean such and such, I just meant such." "Impossible!" Communication meltdown due to different sub-languages.

Some words hold more or less impact than others. We may be desensitized to certain words and we may hold deep meaning in others. Here's another example of a communication breakdown by a couple named Said and Heard.

He wrote the hefty check and said, "damn house payment." She stood in her gourmet kitchen and heard, "damn house payment." Now if these two take for granted they understand each other, Said will go on with life as normal, only a bit irritated as he'd like to take a vacation instead of spending the necessary money on a mortgage payment. And Heard, not knowing this was about a vacation, assumes it's about the fact she chose such a large house. Heard will walk around with bitterness, worry, and other such emotions which will effect her state of being. Said will wonder what her problem is and if days have passed Said won't understand what Heard is mad about.

They will then fight about minor things that have transpired over these few days, how he wiped his brow and sighed after cutting the large lawn, and she shakes her head and says, "you really hate it here don't you?"

Said asks, "What are you talking about? I don't hate it here." Heard won't believe it, they will fight, and have a hard time tracing it back to the original comment. Or if they do, Said will say, "that was so last week," when yes, it was last week, but now the single comment of "damn house payment" has magnetically caught little shavings of lead--the wipe of a brow, the sigh--all week, and this one comment grows heavier and heavier until "damn house payment" is just too heavy for Heard to bear. This could easily be solved by communicating the emotion a word or phrase causes the moment it is heard or said. Heard should have looked up in her gourmet kitchen, and said, "What does damn house payment mean? What are you saying?" Said would reply, "I can use a vacation, but we need somewhere to live, don't we?" Heard nods with a smile.

The word "pathetic" doesn't carry much weight for me, it is a nice word I would maybe use to describe myself if I were to lay around on the couch all day and do nothing, yet if I were to use this very same word to describe myself when speaking to a certain friend of mine she would assume I was suicidal and consider calling the police to rescue me. This word carries much more meaning with her.

If my boyfriend were to tell me I'm mentally unstable without telling me he's just referring to my PMS state at the moment, I may assume he thinks I belong in an insanity ward somewhere, locked up forever. And we will fight. The words "mentally unstable" carry a heavier meaning for me.

How important it is to communicate as well as analyze our sub communication. Tell each other, because you said this, I feel that. Ask each other, was what you said intended to make me feel this? Could I take your such and such to mean such? And if the answer is no, believe it, understand, and explain it, so the next time won't be so bad. You'll grow to understand each other, each others speaking styles, and soon, a communicating river will flow.

About the author:

Tiffany Twist is the author of two books, TIFFANY TWISTED: exposed, unraveled, rewritten (June 2004 by et al Publishing) and SOME DANCE: Hey bartender, I'll take a decade of marriage on the rocks, a therapist straight up, and a fantasy guy with a twist (April 2005 by et al Publishing) and can be contacted through her web site, www.tiffanytwist.com


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