We all communicate differently, therefore, it is very likely there will be times when we misinterpret what is being said.

Case in point:  My husband and I were having a conversation about sports that ultimately turned into an argument.  Once we were able to talk calmly through it, we realized we were both saying the SAME thing—but the way he said it and the way I heard it didn’t process the same way.  Was it because I wasn’t listening to him?  I would say no but, the truth of the matter is, sometimes we can have what is known as “selective hearing,”  meaning a person hears only what is important to them. We were talking during a football game so my attention was divided between him and the TV.  According to researchers. not only do our brains decide which conversations we want to tune into; they also give us the capacity to focus on said conversations to the exclusion of other, simultaneous discussions competing for our attention.

So how do we avoid having conversations that can lead to disagreements?

Give your undivided attention:  As I said previously, my husband I were involved in the football game and trying to carry on a conversation at the same time.  Our attention was clearly divided.  If you are in a conversation with someone, be sure to focus on what he or she is saying without distraction.  And if you are unclear about what they mean ask for clarification. The same goes if you are in a group conversation.  Focus on the person who is talking and respond to them (if necessary).  Try not to jump all over the place when talking with others because you may end up saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and we all know where that can lead.

Ask for clarity:  If you’re not sure how to interpret what is being said, ask for clarification.  For example, if you have on a blue shirt and someone says yellow is your color that may not mean you don’t look good in the blue shirt, it just means they think yellow is a great color for you.  The problem comes when some people let comments go without saying anything.  Then get mad later on after they’ve discussed what was said with someone else who throws a match to start a fire that never should’ve started in the first place if the person had only asked what their comment actually meant.

Don’t make long, drawn-out statements:  Ever talk to someone who just goes on and on and on and hardly lets you get a word in edgewise?  They’ve said about 5 or 6 things you’d like to respond to but by the time they finish, it’s hard to remember their first point.  While some will argue it’s rude to cut people off when they’re trying to make a point, I say you can do it politely.  Parents tend to be notorious for this kind of behavior.  They tell their child what they did wrong and why they’re on punishment and then bring up 50 other things that have absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.  I’ve been guilty of that one—and so was MY mother.

Are you Hearing but not Listening?:  The experts tell us listening is a voluntary act while hearing is involuntary.  When you’re having a conversation with someone, are you really listening to every word or just hearing bits and pieces of “trigger words” to support your part of the discussion?

You can attend church and hear the pastor speak, but if you choose not to listen, you may not remember the sermon or its message. You can hear your spouse when they’re telling you what to buy at the grocery store, but if you’re preoccupied with something else while they’re speaking, you may not remember what was said once you get there.

Make sure you don’t suffer from a hearing loss:  According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, roughly 48 million Americans report some level of hearing loss. If you’re not clear on what someone said, don’t feel bad about asking them to repeat it.  Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults.

On the other hand, be respectful of possible hearing loss.  It’s not that someone isn’t paying attention to what you are saying, it could mean they just can’t HEAR every word.