Miscommunication: Only Hearing What You Want

foreheadsJoan is learning why her anger-management techniques were unsuccessful in the past. She had made the mistake of assuming that her husband Bill heard her words as she intended him to hear them.

She has learned that Bill hears what he wants to hear. For example, here are some examples of how Joan’s message would be received by Bill:

Joan: “Why are you angry at me?”
Bill’s translation: “I demand that you defend your unjustified anger at me.”

Joan: “Don’t be angry at me.”
Bill’s translation: “Do not feel the way you feel. That’s an order. Your feeling is wrong and so are you.”

Joan: “Don’t yell me.”
Bill’s translation: “I am right and you are wrong. I am superior and you are inferior. As your superior, you must submit to me. If you do not do as I say, then you are guilty and indebted to me.”

Joan: “I didn’t do it.”
Bill: “You are a stupid liar. You are inferior, invalid and worthless.”

Joan: “I didn’t mean it.”
Bill’s translation: “Since I never intended to hurt you, you have no right to harbor negative feelings toward me.”

Joan: “After all I’ve done for you.”
Bill’s translation: “I’ve kept score and you owe me. My efforts to please you in the past, entitles me to a get a free pass for mistreating you in the present.”

Joan: “You’re just like your father.”
Bill’s translation: “Your father was an out-of-control, abusive SOB and so are you.”

Joan: “Your mother put up with this abuse, but I’m not going to.”
Bill’s translation: “Your mother was a weak, spineless victim. I am smarter and superior to anyone who has ever loved you. If you don’t want to be a loser, then you better treat me right.”

Joan: “The neighbors will hear you.”
Bill’s translation: “The neighbors’ opinion of us is more important to me than how you feel. Suck it up.”

Joan: “Why can’t you be like Sam next door? He brings his wife flowers every Saturday night.”
Bill’s translation: “Your cheap and selfish. You a useless failure and unless you become someone your not.”

Joan: “Why don’t you listen to me!”
Bill’s translation: “I know what’s best for you. I am smart and you are stupid.”

Joan had no idea that Bill was hearing her words from an intensely critical perspective. She meant well.

Joan’s efforts have been more effective since she has learned to take into consideration Bill’s frame of reference and his perspective. In other words, she considers the ear of the beholder.

She is not submitting to his terms, nor is she manipulating him with hers. She is mindful of the fact that he is an imperfect human being. It is foolish and counter productive to pretend that he is hearing her words as she intends them.

Joan has learned to distinguish between Bill as an imperfect human being and his negative, destructive behavior. This what we call separating the act from the actor, the sin from the sinner. She is making a distinction between the deed and the doer. Bill’s behavior is unpleasant and regrettable, but he is worthwhile in spite of it.

Couple arguing image available from Shutterstock.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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