Understanding Language Filters

Language helps us express observations, thoughts, feelings, and needs. Language is relational and can be used to bring people together through a shared meaning. But a word can mean different things to different people. Try asking your spouse what “success” means to him or her. It is probably very different from what it means to you. 

When we weren’t aware of this, Joy and I would easily have not a few misunderstandings. For example, I might tell her I asked “a few” friends over for dinner. In my mind, I’m picturing the six to eight people I’d run into during the week whom I’d happily invited. In Joy’s mind, “a few” might mean one or two couples. So she would be slaving away in the kitchen all day, happily anticipating our guests’ reaction to the yummy treats she’d prepared.

But guess what? When more and more guests come around, instead of being able to connect with them, like she had looked forward to, she would end up still frantically rushing back and forth in the kitchen, getting our helpers to cook more food—simply because we had not clarified our choice of words. 

And when the dinner is over, we might have an “intense discussion” about it, where I might insist that I had told her how many people we were expecting—but in reality, it probably was all in my head and instead I had simply said “a few” without really being conscious about it! 

Needless to say, since then we’ve learned to be more specific, and when we talk about having guests over, it usually includes actually naming the people we’re expecting! 

 

There is a difference between what one partner says and what the other hears. This 'gap' in communication can be large or small, and it exists because two people can never perceive or interpret the same situation in the same way.   
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Getting Around Our Language Filters

There is a difference between what one partner says and what the other hears. This ‘gap’ in communication can be large or small, and it exists because two people can never perceive or interpret the same situation in the same way.

Within this gap, there are “filters” that affect how we hear our partner and how they hear us. This includes our varied experiences, which shape our beliefs and expectations and cause us to hear and interpret things differently. These filters may also include our different personality traits (e.g. introvert versus extrovert) or the background of each of your families (e.g. you grew up in a family of talkers).

 

 

Imagine what goes on in the world and the reason for all the miscommunication and strife!

We can get around these filters and improve our communication by doing the following:

1. See our differences as good

Once we settle with ourselves that our different perspectives is not our enemy, we can let down our guard and start to work around them.

2. Start being curious about the differences between you and your partner

Next, we can begin to explore the different ways you and your partner see certain things, and maybe even laugh about them! 

For example, Joy has this strength of being able to arrange things in her mind quickly and systematically. The challenge is that she doesn’t always verbalize it when she makes these mental changes in plans—and when those plans involve me, I often get confused and lost: I thought we were doing it this way, and then she goes the other way! It used to be a frequent source of conflict. 

But ever since we discovered this difference between us, we’ve been able to adjust; I’ve learned to ask for more details if I need them, and she has also learned to be more vocal about what has changed to help me along. 

3. Take time to understand what the other person is saying and what makes the issue important to the other person.

It’s crucial that you work on understanding why something is important to your partner before you make any judgment statements, or before you give a solution. (Isn’t it that we husbands usually are in a hurry to offer a solution?) When you commit yourself to listen, really listen, to what your spouse is saying, you will notice that the conversation becomes far richer.

Communicating through our filters

Once we realize how our “filters” affect the way we communicate, we can work around it and understand each other better. We can also learn healthy ways of expressing our needs and feelings, and acknowledging what our partner feels or needs. 

If you would like to learn more about communication, check out our upcoming workshops, or sign up for our newsletter to be updated on when the next one will be. 

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