Recently my husband Joe and I went up to Niagara to visit my parents. While we were catching up and making a plan for what we would be doing together my parents shared that they had only one commitment for the day and that was to go to Maryhill (the local nursing home) and push people down. My sweet husband (of course knew what they were referring to but) responded anyway, “There’s something that sounds not quite right about that. Is that what you do for entertainment around here…go the nursing home to push people down?” We all had a good laugh. You see my mom and dad are very active volunteers at the nursing home. One of the things they do is to push the residents in their wheelchairs or beds down to the chapel for the daily service or mass. They have over the years shortened the description of this labor of love to “pushing people down.”
This bring a smile to your face story, does demonstrate a very important principle of communication. Many times our actions, body language or even words all play a significant part in communicating effectively with others. In this story my parents words certainly did not convey the message they intended. Not being aware that there is often an “under our radar” message being sent can create problems with misunderstandings, confusion, hurt feelings and even significant conflicts in relationships.
Here is an example of a more common “message mix-up.” “The dishes are always left out on the counter. I have asked that they get put in the dishwasher so I don’t have to deal with them when I get home from work.” Given the chance to explore, this person will usually connect to the fact that it is not so much the dishes being on the counter but the message being taken in by the action. Often the message is; “They don’t respect me. They don’t care about me. or I don’t matter enough to them.” At this point the individual who is leaving the dishes out usually indicates that they truly do respect and care about the other. It was never their intention to be disrespectful or less caring towards the person. They just had no idea that their actions were sending such a hurtful message.
One way each of us can try to minimize “message mix-ups” is to walk aware of what possible message we might be sending. If someone gets upset about what we have said or done, checking in with the person to ask what message they received from us could go a long way to minimize hurt feelings and reset the relationship. Another option is to remember to ask ourselves the question, what message do I want my spouse, my friend, my parent to take away? Working from the question we can make choices that insure the message we want to send is the message that gets sent. We can make sure that our actions and our delivery system are all working to send the message we want.