Mar 302011
Quarrel by Jonah Sng

I have been watching my favourite drama serial Return of the Condor Heroes lately. In the course of the show, I noticed that misunderstandings advance the story. For some reason or other, the male and female lovers always seem to get the wrong idea. As a result, they have many partings and reunions. How differently things would have turned out if they had taken the trouble to clarify their doubts.

In one scene, the female lead chances upon her lover while he is putting on a show. His aim is to mediate a conflict between two brothers. But due to the lie he made up, the female lead assumes he no longer loved her and leaves in tears. While the scene makes a very dramatic story, it is just as easy for us to get the wrong idea in real life. What then can we do to avoid misunderstandings?

The Dangers of Misunderstandings

Before we deal with misunderstandings, let us look at its dangers. Misunderstandings can cause many problems and might even lead to open conflicts. At work, it can damage relationships between your boss and colleagues. This might hamper career advancement or the completion of tasks and projects. In personal affairs, it can cause hurt and lead you to quarrel with your loved ones. This causes disharmony, which is very disruptive. As you can see, because of misunderstandings we have to deal with many needless problems in life. But this need not be the way of things. If we take some steps to clarify matters early, we can avoid getting and giving the wrong idea. To do so, we must understand the nature of misunderstandings.

How to Avoid Misunderstandings

Why do misunderstandings happen? Often it is because of imperfect knowledge and hasty judgments. To compound matters, the person who gets the wrong idea might fail to clarify his or her assumptions. Thus, before we know it, a misunderstanding arises than can easily spiral out of control. But fret not. By dealing with the root causes of misunderstandings, we can take steps to pre-empt it.

1. Awareness

The first step to dealing with misunderstandings is awareness. We have to be aware that it is very easy to get and give the wrong idea. In truth, things are rarely what they appear to be. What we see or hear is only the surface of things or a part of a greater whole. If we take an event out of context, it is easy to get the wrong idea.

Also, how something appears to us might be completely different for someone else. Some people might not even be aware of the impression they are giving through their actions. And what do we know of the circumstances that cause them to act the way they do? Similarly, we should be aware of the impression we give with our actions. Only by being aware will we be less hasty and thus avoid misunderstandings.

2. Avoid Jumping to Conclusions

As I mentioned above, what we see and hear may not be the whole picture. We must also consider the context and the reasons behind the actions. People always have good reasons for acting in a way they do. While their actions might seem strange to us, it makes perfect sense to them because they know why they are doing so. To avoid getting the wrong idea, we should always try to place ourselves in their shoes. A shift in perspective often leads to greater insights. If that fails, we should try to find out the whole story directly. Only when we grasp the reasons behind the actions will we be able to avoid getting the wrong idea. This is even more critical when the matters involved are of extreme importance.

For example, some of my friends complain that I do not pick up the phone. It is not that I do not want to, but I often get telemarketing calls, which I dislike. Thus, if I do not recognize the number or if it is a private number, I will not pick it up. When I explain why I do not pick up a call, everything makes more sense.

3. Clarification

It is always easier to get the wrong idea than to get our facts right. When this happens, our feelings will cloud our judgment and actions, compounding the problem. Because it is so easy to misread matters, it is better to suspend our judgment and keep an open mind until we are sure of what is going on. This is all the more important when there are grave consequences involved.

If I have any doubts, the best way to clarify them is to ask. By checking with the parties involved, I can see if I have understood a situation rightly. I believe it is important to find out the background of events and the reasons behind actions. Only when I understand these things will I be less likely to get the wrong idea. To facilitate the process, I always try to ask my questions with tact. This lowers resistance and helps me to get the heart of the matter. With these actions, I avoid getting the wrong idea through clarification.

4. Keep Communication Open and Honest

The first victim of misunderstandings is communication. To avoid this, it is best to be open and honest. Keeping things from others is rarely a good idea. It is true that some truths are hard to accept and timing is as important as the delivery. If we tell the truth to someone who cannot handle it, we might end up doing more harm than good. But truths and facts are undeniable. Telling white lies, partial truths and hiding things always runs the risk of discovery and misunderstandings.

Ultimately, hiding things should only be a short-term measure when there is really no other choice. When this happens, it is best to reveal the whole truth to avoid further misunderstandings at the first chance we get. In the long-term, it is always better to be open and honest. But in doing so, it is a good idea to deliver the truth with tact. If a truth is hard to accept as it is, we could also try to present it from a different perspective. Not only do these actions lessen the blow, it also helps to make it easier to accept.

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Taking Action

It is possible to avoid getting and giving the wrong idea. We just need to be aware of how easy it is for misunderstandings to arise. After that, it is merely a matter of clarifying our doubts through communication. If we can follow these simple steps, we are less likely to get and give the wrong idea.

What are your views on misunderstandings? How do you deal with it when it arises? Do share your thoughts and comments below! :)

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  14 Responses to “Avoiding Misunderstandings: Musings of the Vizier”

  1. I will pick up a call but if I missed a call, I don’t return it if it is an unrecognizable number. My thinking is that if it is urgent, the other person will definitely try calling me again.

    What has helped me is to see the intention behind the other person. Very often, I realize that the intention is a good one. The delivery or what was said was just not well presented. And so my ego reacted in that moment.

    As I reviewed at how I resolve conflicts, it would seem that they are the same steps as the ones you have outlined in your post. So you have covered the points adequately :-)

    I didn’t realize previously that watching The Condor Heroes could invoke so many lessons to share. Good for you!
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..10 Tips to Overcome ShynessMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      I agree with you. If the call is urgent, the other person will definitely try calling again or leave a message or something.

      Seeing the intention of the person’s actions is a good way to avoid misunderstanding. Not everyone is good with the delivery even if they mean well.

      I am a big believer of observing my surroundings for the life lessons it contains. Given enough time, I can gain insights to life just by observing the things that goes on around me. And with such an epic story like the Condor Heroes, the lessons are truly numerous. It is merely a matter of being in the mood to address a particular topic at hand haha!

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  2. Hi Irving,

    It’s great to be here again ;-)

    I’ve had my fair share of misunderstandings. When you eventually learn the truth, you kick yourself and regret any fall out that might have come about.

    Making assumptions about someone’s intentions is an easy mistake to make. When we base our view on what WE think is behind another person’s actions, it can be way off the mark (and usually reveals our own insecurities).

    Similarly, jumping to conclusions is something done with too much haste.

    As you suggested, taking a measured view of the situation – and ensuring you have the full facts – should help avoid ill-feeling and falling outs… hopefully.
    Scott McIntyre | Vivid Ways recently posted..The 8 Best Ways to Have Breathtaking IdeasMy Profile

    • Hi Scott,

      Glad to see you back! :D

      Yeah we all have had our fair share of misunderstandings that we regret. If only we had not gotten the wrong idea in the first place. Although it is difficult to eliminate all misunderstandings from life, we can still do our best to minimize them.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  3. Irving,

    I have learned that perception is everything. For some odd reason people prefer to jump to conclusion instead of getting the facts. For that reason I believe the judicial system was formed to prevent people being categorized based on the perception of others.

    I can say that I have run into countless situations where I have been misunderstood or misunderstood others because I used my emotions and not my logic. Emotions react instantly when logic requires one to remove themselves from the situation and calculate their decisions without bias. You have presented some clear facts with a valid way to apply them and I am glad I was able to read this today. Great work.
    Frank recently posted..Get These Chains Off of Me!My Profile

    • Hi Frank,

      Realizing that perception is everything changed my life in a profound way. It shaped my thinking and view of situations. That said, it is true that people might not have the best perceptions of each other which is why there are so many conflicts in the world today.

      I like how you realize that emotions plays a big part in misunderstandings. If we are aware of our feelings and make an effort to manage them well, we are more likely to avoid misunderstandings.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  4. A relationship can be a wonderful conduit to increased happiness and wellbeing or it can be a cause of untold pain and suffering.

    What I find critical in my own marriage is this: when the pressure comes on JoAnn and I know that we will both tell the truth. It may be very uncomfortable but I’d say this is an essential if there is to be true communication. Telling the truth. Great article Irving.
    Christopher Foster recently posted..What are you most thankful for when you look back at your lifeMy Profile

    • Hi Christopher,

      Yes a relationship can be a double-edged sword. What matters is how we manage it. If we do this right, we will have a great source of strength and support. If we don’t manage it well, it can lead to great pain and suffering as you rightly point out.

      I like how you and JoAnn always make it a point to tell the truth. While the truth may be uncomfortable, it is the truth that won’t change. If we can take the steps to deliver the truth with tact, it will be easier to accept and there will be less misunderstandings.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  5. By far, the biggest cause of contract disputes is miscommunication. I teach contract drafting and avoiding misunderstanding is a theme of the seminar. You are so right! I might make all my students read your post!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Letting GoMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      I can see how the biggest cause of contract disputes is miscommunication, especially since it is so easy to get the wrong idea if we are not clear.

      I would be honoured if you got your students to read my post! :)

      Thank you for your lovely experiences and sharing how misunderstandings relates to the working world! :)

  6. This couldn’t have come at a better time! There is someone in my life that I’ve been avoiding, because it is difficult for me to be around her negativity and rage. I see that in avoiding her I’m just creating ground for misunderstanding & she should know why I’ve been uncomfortable. Your tips have pulled me out of my haze of avoidance. Thanks Irving!
    Dandy recently posted..Five Powerful Ways to Respond to CriticismMy Profile

    • Hi Dandy,

      Being around negativity and rage can be really draining. But avoidance can lead to misunderstandings. I am glad that my article could help in some small way and that you are going to try to explain things to her. I hope everything works out well!

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  7. Irving: Great post. I think you are so right that we always have to be on the lookout for misunderstandings and have a good approach of managing through them. I think what you said that was really helpful had to do with awareness and understanding that we have to make certain we aren’t taking things out of context. That is really the beginning of all misunderstandings. Really good advice and information here.
    Sibyl – alternaview recently posted..Why You Really Should Change Your RoutineMy Profile

    • Hi Sibyl,

      I am glad you liked my article!

      Awareness is vital to avoid us giving or getting the wrong idea. So many people go through life with very little awareness and this only leads to many problems in their lives.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

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