What Did You Say?

Last week I wrote in my blog about a person from a state government who had contacted me to inquire as to whether I would be able to speak to their employees. I also posted a note about this on my Facebook page, and commented on how difficult it seems to be to work in state government these days. In a surprising twist, I received a comment from someone (I don’t even know who the person is) writing something about the health laws in Arizona. Huh? I had to read the response several times to make sure I understood it, as it was a complete non sequitur to what I had written.

A couple of my friends called me to remark on how odd the response was relative to what I had written. My first reaction was to respond and point out to the person who commented that they really didn’t read what I was writing – and didn’t respond to the actual issue I had posted about. But then I adopted the Interested Observer attitude that I speak and write about.

In Interested Observer mode, I could clearly see this person’s filters. Filters are the invisible film that sits between our understanding and the other people out there in the world we are interacting with on a daily basis. Filters “color” our experience because, instead of seeing clearly what’s happening, we see everything as it’s delivered to us through our filters.

So, if my filter is that the laws in Arizona vis-à-vis healthcare are bad, I will find opportunities in what others say to affirm this – like the person on my Facebook page. Our filters aren’t limited to political viewpoints, though. They cover most issues we encounter with others. We often don’t “see” the person in front of us communicating with us, because what we “see” is our expectation of them, or our own experiences.

Have you ever had the situation where you are trying to be really clear with someone about something important to you – you are doing your best to explain your position and your thinking, but the other person simply isn’t hearing you? They are responding to something in their own filters – not the reality of the interaction. It can be so frustrating, because we feel the other person doesn’t care, or is focused on something else. In fact, they ARE focused on something else – but even they may not be aware of it.

Filters can lead us into all kinds of difficulty with others. We may not give someone the opportunity to explain themselves if we respond too quickly to what’s been said. We may find ourselves in a fight with someone and end up needing to swallow our pride when we realize we didn’t fully understand what the other person was saying. Or we may find a relationship in serious difficulty and no matter how we try to explain our position, we simply can’t see eye-to-eye.

These filters are a fact of life. While we think we are honest and fair in our interactions with others, the truth is that our filters sit in front of everything we see and hear. We perceive others in relation to our expectations. We often just react – and don’t even know why we are reacting. Like the person on my Facebook page, we may present a response to someone and leave them wondering, “Did they even listen to anything that I said?” If we find ourselves feeling misunderstood, sometimes we just shut down and not bother even trying to communicate!

The only way to really deal with the filters is to put your energy into active listening and focusing on other people. Check for understanding and ensure that what they said is what you heard. Before you react, give yourself some time to digest what’s been said and observe your own reaction to it.

Many relationships have been ruined by a misunderstanding. Be sure you are seeing clearly in your relationships, in order to give others the best opportunity to be heard and understood.