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How easily can you put yourself in another’s shoes? How possible is it for you to see life from another person’s perspective?
When communication is poor in a relationship, it usually has little to do with choosing the right words. Most people have a decent vocabulary. Communication problems come from:
- An (often stubborn) desire to go in a particular direction (that is different than the other’s)
- An inability to see life beyond your own perspective
- Assuming other people think and feel the way you do
We see things not as they are, but as we are. Because it is the ‘I’ behind the ‘eye’ that does the seeing.Anaïs Nin
If you’ve never seen a four-legged animal, you’ll probably have a hard time understanding someone’s love for a dog.Your ability to understand your world is limited by your experiences and your identity. You can always get new experiences, but you can't get a new identity. However, new experiences will help you understand your identity. Click To Tweet
You’ve heard the expression, “get on the same page,” right? All this means is having an experience of the same thing. Even after this, communication requires work because every person is different. Each person looks at the same dog, but sees, feels, and responds differently.
As much as being on the same page is helpful, it requires a tremendous amount of effort because there are so many experiences that haven’t been formed at the same time. One person might have experienced a dog bite when they were 8 years old. Another person in their twenties might call their dog their best friend. How would these two people get on the same page? As you can see, there’s plenty of room for bias and plenty of reasons why they would struggle to communicate.
Let’s pretend you have an awesome camera that takes super high-resolution pictures and a low-def monitor. What kind of experience will you have looking at the picture?
What if we switch it up? What if you have a super high-resolution monitor, but you take a picture with a low-res camera? Same experience, right? Both pictures will look distorted.
In this example, the picture is the common experience and the monitor represents each person’s identity. The same picture will look different on different monitors.
The monitor can’t change. While you can change, you are limited like the monitor to what you can perceive at any given moment. God hard-wired your identity to see life in a specific way. He doesn’t intend for you to ever see it exactly like anyone else.
This brings us to a plan to communicate better. To improve your communication:
- Have more experiences; each one changes you and helps you understand
- Have more shared experiences; each one gets you closer to being on the same page
- Practice describing what you see to each other, but realize you’ll never get it perfect, only close enough
- Recognize each person sees the same experiences differently
- Recognize each person has different motives and desires
- Recognize each person is unique and will always only see life through the lens of their God-given identity
- Be patient with the process; the best understanding develops over a long time
When all else seems to fail, there is love and empathy. Love overcomes the frustration from the lack of ability to know what it is like to be someone else. No one else has ever been you, so they can’t know for sure what it’s like. But you can empathize because everyone knows what it is like to feel pain and discomfort and then experience peace.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV
Peace and comfort are universal experiences.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.