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When Message Sent Isn't Message Received

Ever said something you thought was innocuous like "I thought you were coming to dinner?" and see the other person react as though you had just fired a missile of criticism? After the initial shock you find yourself sucked into a vortex of arguing.

According to William Simmons Smith in his book "Interpersonal Relationships", when you say something the receiver only hears 8% content of your words. Facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and what's going on for the receiver fills in the rest.  This leaves ample space for the listener to make meaning out your words that you weren't actually expressing.

The jackal* delivery system is up and running when you say something you think it is innocuous and the other person hears a criticism.  So how can you keep the jackal delivery system from ruining a perfectly good conversation?

- Connecting requests, connecting requests, connecting requests

What's a connecting request? It means you check if the message you sent was the message the other received. Basically you ask, "Can you tell me what you heard me say?" Here are some other ways to ask:

  • "I'm wondering what you're getting from what I said?"
  • "I'm not sure I was clear could you feed that back to me?"
  • "Would you be willing to say what you understood about what I just said?"
  • "What were you hearing there?"
  • "What landed for you about what I said?"

Connecting requests are especially important when emotions are stirring and the relationship is an established one. The more someone knows you, the more they think they already know what you mean. Their own ideas about you and your relationship with them get in the way of really hearing you.

Try out a connecting request at least three times this week. Experiment with different relationships and different situations. You might be surprised at how often message sent is not a message received. You might also be surprised at how helpful and satisfying it can be to know that you have been heard.

*Jackal refers to any speech or behavior that disconnects

from feelings and needs.

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