Do you form your answer before the question?

Published 9:30 am Monday, May 3, 2010

I have concluded that perception is in the ear of the listener. If we could learn how to get it right when we communicate with one another, we would have a lovefest going on instead of a Babel of words that we mistake for communication all because our tone or choice of words cannot be deciphered correctly by those that are listening to us.

I happen to have an example. Recently I had the happy occasion of having a blown tire. I was not sure whether my knight in shining armor would want to fix it himself or want me to call someone else.

After hitching a ride home, I called my knight. After explaining my dilemma he said to me “What do you expect me to do about it?” At that point I hung up, not giving my knight a chance to explain his reaction. I huffed and puffed and made the decision to take care of it myself even if it might not be to his liking.

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I called the trusty tow truck that took my vehicle to a trusty garage that would take pity on me because it was a late Friday afternoon and not too many people were still working. I had a new knight in shining armor. When my old knight came home from a long day at work he said to me, “You hung up on me. Why are you upset?” I casually explained that it could have been the what-do-you-expect-me-to-do-about-it, question. You could see by the look on his face that he was clueless to the smoke rising from the top of my head.

He explained that he had been in the midst of putting in a railing and was at a crucial point and could not have helped me, which he would have explained had I not hung up. My old knight asked me what he was supposed to have said. I replied, “I can’t help you right now. Why don’t you call the garage?” A few changes in the wording and I would not have been upset. Old knight would also not have been upset because I hung up on him. The whole world would have been rosy except for my tire.

I heard one thing because of the words and the tone and he meant another thing because of the words and the tone. We humans do seem to do that a lot.

Miscommunication is not always in the words it is also in the tone. Have you ever had someone ask you a question and you replied “Whatever! That word can mean a great deal depending on your tone. There is the ‘Whatever, I really don’t care and it doesn’t matter.’ There is the ‘Whatever, I am going to ignore you.’ Or the ‘‘Whatever!’ as you know the person is rolling their eyes in disdain? If you can’t see them you imagine they are making a face. It is all in the tone.

Then there is the question “How does my hair look?” I get asked that question from my knight in shining armor when he is trying to mock my question about my hair to him. I know just as he knows, that he really doesn’t care what his hair looks like. He also never gives me a straight answer about my hair. His stock answer is” “It always looks nice to me.” So, of course, I never believe him. I suppose he could be sincere occasionally; he claims he is. but how would I know?

We had a visitor this weekend. His name was Bengy. and he was a cute little white dog. Sam got along very well with Bengy, but I noticed they had no problems communicating. When Bengy was barking out the door at dogs walking by, Sam just nudged him and Bengy was quiet. Bengy instinctively knew Sam’s form of communication. The two seemed to communicate well. My confusion came because Sam always barks at the dogs walking by except while Bengy was here. Sam seemed to think he had to be a good example. So somewhere I know that even though Sam ignores me when I try to communicate to him that he should not bark at dogs, he does hear my communication. He just chooses to ignore it.

Or maybe I might admit to the fact that I do sometimes have a problem getting my point across. Could it be my tone or could it be the words I use?

Have you ever tried explaining a problem to someone and they just don’t get it. You want to yell at them “What part of this problem don’t you understand?” as you are waiting for an answer and a resolution. However, posing that question to people, depending on your tone, seems to make the resolution take longer.

Sometimes we have a hard time communicating because we don’t listen. We are so busy forming our answer to whatever is being said to us that we don’t hear the whole question or problem. Sometimes we have a hard time communicating because we don’t want to hear the answer because we might not like it. Sometimes we just don’t want to communicate at all and so we are rude and ignore the communicator.

And then there is the type of communication that confuses everyone because it goes in many different directions and doesn’t seem to have a point. Do you get my drift?

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. Peter Drucker

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send e-mail to her at .Her blog is Listen to KBEW AM radio 1:30 p.m. Sundays for “Something About Nothing.”