Clarifying questions can combat confusion

By Rob Furlong
I had to pick up my grandchildren after school recently and being a reliable grandfather, I made sure I was there in plenty of time before the bell rang.
When I arrived, my grandson was outside his classroom door with one of his friends and busily packing his bag in preparation for leaving.
My grandson’s friend looked at me and turned to him and asked, “Is that your Grandad?”
“Yes!” answered my grandson.
And as naturally as you please, his friend said, “He doesn’t look funny at all!”
Two thoughts immediately went through my mind.
First, I was pleased I didn’t look funny!
Two, my grandson and I need to have a talk!
Throughout this year we have specifically focused on some practical skills to help us grow and develop our relationships with each other and whether it has been trying to break the habit of making assumptions in our conversations with others, being lovingly honest instead of dropping hints or finding the courage to have a difficult conversation with someone, one thing is certain: each skill requires clear communication.
The story I told about my grandson above – which I find hilarious – is an excellent example of how communication can become both confused and problematic.
Based purely on what I heard that afternoon, my mind could have run off in all sorts of directions.
“What has my grandson been saying about me?”
“Okay – I don’t look funny – but compared to who or what?!”
“Does my grandson really think I look that bad?”
My mind did not go in those directions, but this isn’t always the case in our conversations, simply because we do not fully appreciate all that is involved in the communication process.
Experts in the field of communication studies have identified six factors which are involved when we are communicating with one another:
There is what you mean to say.
What you actually say.
What the other person hears.
What the other person thinks he/she hears.
What the other person says about what you said.
What you think the other person said about what you said.
This can be quite daunting, but if you think about it carefully, these factors are always involved in the conversation process.
Karen could say to me, “I really love it when you put your arms around me and give me a hug!”
I hear her say those actual words but depending on how I am feeling at the time or any past insecurities I may be carrying, I might come out with something like, “But I have been doing that!”
As a result, she may well interpret my words as being defensive and respond by saying, “You don’t have to be like that!”. Suddenly the conversation is now far removed from its original intent.
But when we understand what is involved in communication, much confusion and misunderstanding can be avoided, and the above conversation could look something like this:
K: “I really love it when you put your arms around me and give me a hug!”
R: “Oh, why are you saying that?”
K: “Because when you do it makes me feel loved. You did it yesterday and it was really special to me.”
R: “Thanks for telling me. I’m glad it meant a lot to you because I wanted you to know how much I love you.”
K: “It was very special, and I wanted you to know.”
What a completely different conversation and result!
Asking good questions, clarifying what each other is saying and giving more information, defuses much hurt, confusion, and frustration.
Better communication results when we have a good grasp of the basics: asking clarifying questions and giving as much information as possible.
Incidentally, my grandson did this for me. He made it clear he had told his friend I was funny, not that I looked funny!

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