...by the beautiful and good in this city.... (#Robbie Williams)
In recent years I had the opportunity to explore my artistic talent by creating abstract mixed media paintings. It's extremely rewarding, therapeutic and exciting because you discover and learn something new all the time! By the beginning of this year I had quite a collection of various art pieces, having already gifted my family and friends with some hand crafted presents from me. Yes, great but also not so great, if they didn't like them and didnt tell me! 😉 Anyway, I decided to apply to exhibit my work in order to get some feedback and perhaps learn something.
Promptly, my application has been accepted and so there I was exhibiting my pieces. It was great! An amazing group of talented artists allowed me to be part of their group. The two days went in a flash as visitors and art lovers strolled through the various stands. Quite a lot of people stopped and shared their views about what they saw, bought pieces and shared their own stories with me - it was just fab.
Something that is incredibly exciting, are the various perspectives, stories and emotions people have when looking at pieces of art. It got me thinking about how we all are looking at / listening to / doing one and the same thing, yet every single one interprets what they see, hear and do differently. Quite honestly this reminds me of looking at a blank canvas and deciding which colours or mediums to use for which story. The colours and mediums representing the interpretations and misunderstandings that actually create the story. Just like in any story, then perhaps, sometimes we are even actually trying to interpret or be misunderstood in order to provoke?
This observation made me curious about how this interacts with misunderstanding and being misunderstood.
How do misunderstandings show up?
Well, misunderstandings show up everywhere and anywhere. Take a simple situation with children for example. An adult (parent or other) is educating a child about the importance of being organised. The adult explains what they think is quite clear and unmistakable. In the child's head thought the adult was speaking a language that did not correlate with their own experience. Therefore the brain of the child migh interpret the request or task as a completely different one than the adult thought they asked for. A lot of the time misunderstandings go unnoticed initially. So in this example the adult would assume the child understood what is required because the child doesn't say otherwise. The misunderstanding in this case is either not detected at this point or it is purposefully hidden it then escalates some time later in conflict.
A similar example would be at work between team members. When one team member has a conversation with their peer and in the process thinks s/he has been clear that the help of the other is required to complete a particular task. Both get on with their daily work and a week later they meet again and team member one asks team member two how s/he is doing with that task. Team member two is stunned because s/he did not hear support is required and interpreted the meeting more of a sounding borad for her/his colleague. Alternatively, team member two might purposefully have misinterpreted the request because her/his levels of work were so high that s/he was unable to offer support. Since the request was not made clearly in the eyes of the receiver team member two choose to interpret the request in to her/him more achievable way.
A further example is between partners. One partner points out some boundaries that have been crossed between them (which ever they might be) i.e. one says he is going to be away all weekend and the other asks for him/her to return at a certain time so they could go to out together. Partner one goes off merrily on their weekend and does not return until the end of the weekend. Partner two is hurt and feels disrespected.
Misunderstandings really happen every day and everywhere with everyone. Here is how they happen...
Assumptions often made
First of all, let's be real here. Interpreting situations, people and things how we want to see them or as a misunderstanding happen all the time and at some point to all of us, right?
So if this is the case what are the underlying assumptions we are making that gets us in this situation? They might be thoughts like:
- this is how we do it (whatever "this" might be) here
- we all think the same
- fixed ideas of right & wrong, black & white - no grey areas
- surely, you want what I want
- everyone knows that.... (whatever that might be in each case)
Imagine for one minute what would happen if we dropped each of these assumptions and just presented ourselves as a blank canvas. What do you think would happen?
The stakes are quite high when misunderstandings get overlooked, are placed purposefully or are ignored. What we see as a result or a consequence of a misunderstanding is conflict, unhelpful arguments, anger, judgment, hurt, pain, relationship break downs, loss of productivity, burn out, financial loss und more.
It's not all bad though, because on the contrary, when awareness is sharpened and we can detect misunderstandings at source they can become a source of enrichment, innovation and inspiration.
We are learning that misunderstandings are just as faceted as an abstract painting. It is our instinct to take what is in front of us and translate it to reflect our own story. Every interpretation simple is only one perspective of many.
it happens all the time and if we miss the opportunity to raise the awareness, clarify or learn more about the other perspective, it can become a great cause for confusion and heart ache.
Sharpening our presence (being in the moment with the other person) and enquiring with genuine interest are tools that help us get the best out of these situations.