Many miscommunications are perpetuated by people who fail to check that they are either being understood correctly or correctly understanding someone.
One effective means to overcome misunderstandings is to repeat back to the person what you think they said.
“If I’m understanding you correctly, what you’re saying is…”
In that way, you can make sure you’re on the same page and not wasting unnecessary time & energy — or potentially making things worse.
Many misunderstandings also happen because, rather than listen closely to what others are saying, people often use the time that others spend speaking to plan what they’re going to say next. They listen to reply, rather than listen to understand.
This is often evidenced by how often people interrupt each other.
Unless it is for the purpose of clarification, interrupting someone to steer a conversation in a different direction is not only an indication that you aren’t listening closely, it’s a sign that you think what you have to say is more important than what the speaker is saying.
While interrupting someone can be acceptable in fun and playful conversations between friends, it can be disrespectful and potentially hazardous in any exchange meant to be taken seriously.
While it’s important to be able to express yourself clearly, it’s equally, if not more important to be able to listen effectively.
There is truth in this ancient wisdom from Epictetus, the Greek Sage and Stoic philosopher:
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
We learn much more through listening carefully than we do by thinking about what we’re going to say when the person speaking stops talking.
There is great power in being a person who can listen effectively.
Make a donation to a charity? Someone will tell you it’s the wrong charity. Give to the homeless? Someone will tell you why that’s a bad idea. Like a certain kind of music? Someone will tell you why it sucks. Read a good book lately? Someone out there hates it. Think something is funny? Someone won’t see the humor. Have something cool you want to attempt? Someone will tell you not to bother because it’s already been done.
George Lucas, JK Rowling, The Beatles, and countless other success stories — all got rejected because someone thought there was something “wrong” with what they had to offer, but they all succeeded because they persisted anyway.
It should go without saying that no matter what you do or what your motivation is for doing it, there will almost always be someone to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
At some point, you just have to learn to listen to your heart and your intuition and do what you feel is right, regardless of what the critics say. Because sometimes what’s considered wrong or flawed to one person, may be a work of genius to another.
Use feedback to make yourself, your actions, and your offerings more effective, but never give up doing what you want to do just because someone doesn’t “get it”.
Odds are, if you do anything worth doing and it initiates change for the greater good, someone somewhere isn’t going to like it.
Liars. Cheaters. Drug addicts. Racists. Homophobes. Wife beaters. The selfish. The narcissistic. The willfully ignorant…
Just because someone is on TV or sells a lot of records doesn’t make them a good role model. And it certainly doesn’t make them “cool”.
Just because someone has a lot of money in their bank account — and is considered “successful” by that standard — doesn’t mean their life is a blue print worth following.
Yes, controversy attracts a crowd, but just because someone has a strong moral compass or leads a life involving little to no controversy doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of attention.
The folks worthy of emulating and drawing attention to are not those who do whatever outrageous things they can to get attention in order to put more money in their bank accounts.
They are those who live modestly and with integrity doing the right thing and whatever needs to be done regardless of who’s watching.
They could be your neighbor, a coworker, the founder of a non-profit. Anyone.
Stop simply accepting the commercially driven role models that are mass marketed to you. You’re playing their game. And they’re winning. Every time we give them attention, we give them free advertising and power. Power that is often abused.
Hold your idols to a higher standard than simply being famous for being famous. Find people worth admiring, whether they are famous or not.
We owe it to ourselves to have truly positive role models, not assclowns on TV and on the covers of the magazines in the magazine rack.
While being happy is something to celebrate, there are some who promote happiness as if any other option isn’t acceptable. As if, if you aren’t happy, there’s something wrong with you. And that simply isn’t true.
The ability to feel a full range of emotions and different states of being is an important part of the human experience.
It’s ok not to be happy. And in many cases, a large part of personal growth is dependent on recognizing when one is not happy and then actively working through it.
“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.” — Oscar Wilde
While it is said that, “Inner Peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.” — and it is a skill and state of being everyone is capable of — it is much easier to talk about inner peace than it is to achieve it.
It takes a tremendous amount of mental discipline to achieve a state of mind in which we are unaffected by the negative events around us. And, like having a fit body is a choice and it’s something everyone is capable of, it’s not something most people have. Mental discipline takes practice.
Unless one is a Zen master, creating the expectation that being happy at all times is a simple matter of choice, is to set one’s self up for what will likely be a difficult task. Because the moment something almost inevitably disturbs your state of being — and you suddenly find that you’re not happy — you’ll feel as if there’s something wrong with you.
But it’s ok to feel sadness. It’s ok to feel pain. It’s ok to feel frustration and anger. Again, these feelings are a part of the human experience.
[*While feeling anger, frustration, unhappiness is ok, it’s important to deal with such states in a healthy and productive fashion. And that is beyond the scope of this post. Adopting behaviors that put you or others in harm’s way is not healthy — and if you are inclined to do such things, it is important to seek help.]
Telling someone who has just suffered a tremendous loss to “just be happy”, “happiness is a choice”, and “it’s always darkest before dawn” generally isn’t helpful (at all).
And while it’s ok to want to help people — and it shows you care, it’s also ok to let people work through their issues and to just let them know you are there to support them if they need you.
Feeling things other than happiness are an important part of growth. They lead to changes where we often transition from one level of awareness to another.
So it’s OK not to be happy. Not being in a constant state of happiness is not unhealthy. But it’s important to remember to channel that energy effectively and to not simply dwell on it. Acknowledge it and move on, transitioning to your new beginning.
And as you transition from one level of awareness to another, if you make a conscious effort to practice mental discipline and choose where to focus your mental energy, you may just find the inner peace so many wish they had, but never put in the effort to achieve.
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” — Carl Jung
“Refuse to emotionally succumb to the negative events around you and tap your mental toughness to thrive in any environment. The good guy doesn’t always win and justice doesn’t always prevail, but where you direct your mental energy will always determine your attitude and it will always be controlled by you.” — Steve Siebold
Eric: Very good piece. Whole books could be written about what the word ‘happiness’ even means. Probably there already are such books.
But in short, for me, I try to draw a distinction nowadays between being happy and being ‘at peace’ or ‘contented’. I am much more at peace nowadays, but I’m not always ‘happy’. I value peace much more than happiness (although peace is for me often the conduit to happiness).
Zero: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that’s a great distinction. I used to think I knew what happiness was — I had a mental picture of it. But it’s changed. It looks more like contentment and “inner peace”…
Just because you don’t have a smile on your face, doesn’t mean you’re not happy. But just because someone is smiling, doesn’t mean they’re happy.
There’s a sort of congruency and balance that needs to be in place… and that creates a sort of “emotional calm” or satisfaction (I’m not sure what to call it).
Always remember that your actions help influence whether there is more or less of something in the world.
The reason why bad news, people acting badly, and superficial pop culture is so popular is because people give their attention to it. This, in turn, creates more of exactly the sorts of things people say they don’t want.
This is why it is so important to encourage those who are doing the sorts of things you would like to see more of.
If you like it, encourage it. If you admire it, say so. If you appreciate it, express it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, a family member, a stranger on the street, or someone you cross paths with online, everyone can always use a little encouragement and positive feedback. Your recognition of the things you appreciate helps to prolong those things and ensure their future existence. Ten seconds of your time is all it takes (although thirty or more is more meaningful).
“The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend.”
Another false meme.
This one is a quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s book, Invisible Monsters.
I’m not sure of the context within the book. I don’t know if it’s a character saying it or the author, but it’s being shared on the Web in meme form as if it’s an insightful piece of self-contained wisdom.
At best, it’s a very cynical view of the world.
1. believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
2. concerned only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted or appropriate standards in order to achieve them.
It should go without saying that there are numerous valid reasons why someone might ask you how your weekend was, not least of which being they are genuinely interested.
Not everyone has a personal agenda. Not everyone is superficial, self-centered, or selfish. Not everyone provides a courtesy or kindness with the expectation of reward.
Some people are actually interested in what others have to say or offer. And it has nothing to do with having a hidden agenda. It has to do with being a supportive friend, a good listener, or even just a curious person.
It’s not about manipulation or acting under false pretense.
Sometimes communication is one-sided, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you talk. Sometimes you listen. That’s just how it works.
But true friendship and connection involves sharing an experience — without an agenda.
And there are far more people in the world happy to do that than this cynical quote would lead you to believe.
Probably the worst, patently false meme I’ve seen in a while:
“Listen to people when they are angry, because that is when the real truth comes out.”
People are much more likely to say intentionally hurtful things when they’re angry — and many times, these things are not at all a reflection of the truth.
“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” — Ambrose Bierce
Anger is often referred to as a “secondary emotion” because it’s most often the result of feeling something else: hurt, rejected, scared, grief, or vulnerable.
When people are in this state is not a time others should rely on them to communicate clearly, or rationally. Nor is it a time when one should take special care to listen for the “real truth”.
“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” — Aristotle
Anyone who has ever been a teenager can probably remember saying something intentional hurtful to their friends or parents (such as, “I hate you!”) — because they were angry and wanted to inflict damage, not because they were expressing the truth.
The time to listen for the truth is not when people are angry. The time to listen for the truth is when they’re emotionally stable, clearly aware of what they’re saying, and capable of expressing it effectively.
“One of the greatest lessons we can learn in life is how to keep mute when the boiling ring of anger is dropped within us.” — Ikechukwu Izuakor
This meme is confusing anger with the positive aspects of passion.
You want to know what someone’s personal truth is?
Listen to people when they’re excited. Listen to the ideas they love to talk about. Listen when they speak with enthusiasm. Listen to what they speak about with passion.
Because the fire that lights people’s passions is a far more reliable source of truth than whatever it is they say when they are angry.
“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” — William Arthur Ward
Afterword: I should point out I’m separating passion (positive) from anger (negative), but according to the dictionary definition of “passion”, it can involve any intense emotion (including anger). But passion doesn’t necessarily involve anger — and anger doesn’t necessarily involve passion.