Communicate to be Understood

Why do you and I communicate? 

Sometimes I wonder if it’s to hear myself!  How wonderful I am (wink) smart I am (nod)...and definitely how right I am (roar with laughter)!

There are also times when I truly desire to get a message across to another person and communication breaks down.  Kaput.  I might understand if I were only giving negative feedback, yet this also happens with a positive or neutral missive.


My communiqué wafoo’s are heightened by the intercultural and bilingual challenges which accompany living abroad.  As an American-raised French citizen, I have often put my foot in my plate...oops that’s the literal translation...put my foot in my mouth.  Thankfully mistakes make great teachers for honing effective communication. 

Have you noticed that most of our family interaction involves some element of cultural adaptation? I am from Venus while my household (my husband and our four boys) hails from Mars.  The term generation gap was coined because parents and children speak and think differently. 

“U no wat I mean?”


"Ugh!  Peace, please.”

Here are my top three lessons to communicate to understand.

Lesson 1:  What I Say is NOT What They Hear

Remember the game “telephone” when one person whispers a message to the next, who passes it on, who share it again...until the missive returns to the original sender...and they look totally confused!  How did “I love you,” get transformed into “Waving the wazou”?

No message is neutral.  It depends upon the state of the person sending AND receiving.  We have all experienced this through an e-mail that went awry.  Without the support of tone of voice and facial expressions to share emotions, a message we intended to state facts was interpreted as carrying judgment.  (Have you also noticed that notes have a higher chance of being negatively misunderstood?! I rarely have someone get thrilled over a compliment I did not intend to send!) 

Communication is messy, not simple and clean.

Lesson 2: Repeat the Message Differently

 In intercultural communication, we are coached to speak one thought with multiple vocabularies.

“It’s nice outside.  I like this sunny weather,” clearly indicates that you’re not seeking shelter from an ice storm.

Why limit ourselves to spoken/written language?  With our children, I try to connect with all of their senses.  “Please stay close by.  If you cannot hear my voice, you are too far.  Do you see that tree?  That’s the limit of your playing space.” 

Lesson 3:  Check What They Heard

Why get annoyed, after the consequences, that messages don’t get across when we could spend less time and energy initially checking that we’re on the same wavelength?  It sounds obvious, but I needed Dr. Turansky and nurse Miller to teach me this!

In their book, Parenting is Heart Work, they detail a structure instruction-giving method. 

-          Get face to face.  Shouting from the kitchen to the kids in their room over their deafening music amazingly does not align for successful instruction-giving!

-          Have the child repeat the instruction back to you.  No more “I didn’t know/understand/realize...”  No more excuses.  And, heaven forbid, I might even sound confusing!  This repetition step provides me with “market research” to tweak my communication style (smile).

-          The job is finished only after the kids have reported back and received “free to go.”  (This small step has totally transformed my attitude towards giving instructions.  I now make it the opportunity to point to excellence in work AND to affirm my kids on a job well done.  Fantastic!  An enormous self-esteem boost for the kids AND a real lightening of my chore-load.)

In fact, rephrasing the other person’s comments is a common conflict-management technique.  Here’s a newspaper clip I collected years ago depicting the process.

Bookmark and Share

Did you find this article helpful/interesting?

Add a comment

HTML code is displayed as text and web addresses are automatically converted.

This post's comments feed