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Ahh miscommunications… they happen on such an alarmingly regular basis, don’t they?

Take for example a miscommunication I witnessed today at the tailor’s shop. The shop is run by an overbearing-aunt-type woman in her late 50s. She does all of the schmoozing with the female customers who come in and takes their orders. Then there’s the tailor… a skinny, middle-aged man clearly used to reading, flattering and bearing with each different woman for whom he makes a suit.

This evening, overbearing-aunt charged into the shop breathing fire.

“I just got a call from [woman]. She said the suit you made for her is completely plain. Not even any piping or boarders.”

“You told me to make it plain.”

“Not so plain that it didn’t even have piping! That’s too ridiculously plain!”

“You said plain. She said plain. I made it plain. I’m not sitting over here making stuff up myself. I only make what you said the customer wants.”

This went around for a while, growing more heated and bitter.

What’s the main problem here?

Their differing definitions of the word “plain”. A little more clarity on what that word means… and a little humility to say, “Oh, sorry, didn’t realize that’s what you had in mind” and life can move on a little less stressfully.

Or imagine how I might be miscommunicating to my South Asian friends about my feelings on the recent departure of my roommate Rachel. They all know Rachel & I became good friends and did a lot of stuff together. But in a culture where the words for “lonely” and “alone” are used interchangeably, if they think I’m too lonely, I’ll end up with an all-day steady stream of visitors (with other friends in tow) and a random assortment of curried vegetables, snacks and other “sympathy food” designed to make me less sad about now having to live lonely (err… alone). But I’m an introvert… while I miss Rachel, I also don’t mind the alone time. So our conversations go like this…

Friend: “So, Rachel got home okay?”
Me: “Yep.”
Friend: (sympathetic sigh) “So now you are alone?”
Me: “Yea, but that’s really okay. I don’t mind living alone.”
Friend: confused frown “But… Rachel?”
Me: “Rachel was a good friend. I do really miss her. Yes, I did cry when she left.”
Friend: (another sympathetic sigh) “And now you are alone.”
Me: “Which is, really, fine. It’s fine.”

I feel like I’m talking in circles!

Writing about success in the workplace, a blogger I read said he decided to take full liability for any miscommunications that happened involving him. He said it made him a lot more conscientious about clear communication. While it’s an interesting (and probably responsible) idea – it also sounds exhausting!

But as I think about all of the recent miscommunications I’ve seen, heard about or been part of – I’m reminded of the wise advice in James 1:19 to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Listening is harder, more exhausting work than speaking. It takes patience to settle in and really listen to the heart of the person in front of you. Listen in such a way that as far as it depends on you, you will hear them correctly.

But maybe if you listen to them… they might listen to you?

And angry miscommunications might get a bit rarer?