What We Make it Mean

By Judith R. BrownHawk MS/P  ~  509-879-5792

“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure if you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Ya’ know, I’ve noticed over the years that people communicate in so many different ways.  I’m surprised communication actually happens at all.  People learn to communicate from parents, siblings, teachers, and interactions with other people all through our lives.  As we speak, old words with new meanings and new words with new meanings are happening so fast, and we try to keep up. Recently, ‘woke’, became a slang word for people who are enlightened.  ‘Twerking’, is a recent word in the English lexicon, referring to a dance move where people bounce their bottoms in a way that makes them look like they have pants full of Jello. 

Additionally, though we all use body language, we don’t all mean the same thing by rolling our eyes or smiling, or sit with our arms folded. 

The point being that what and how we say things, the ways we move our bodies, and our facial expressions do not always communicate what it is that we mean.  It is always a good idea to check with the other person to make sure. 

Example: She says, “Dad isn’t feeling well today.”

He says, “So you want me to take care of his chores?”

She says, “No, I just want you to be sensitive to his illness.”

You see, what she meant was not what he made it mean.  We often take a gesture, facial expression, or sentence wrong and don’t ask, sometimes stewing on something someone said for days or even years.  Only to find out later we made it mean something to us, that the communicator did not mean at all.

The same is true in our lives.  A young girl I met told me a story of how she was on her way out the door for school dressed scantily. Her father told her to go back and change her clothes. She tried to push by him to go out the door anyway, and he stopped her, turned her around and pushed her toward her bedroom, explaining she was not going out the door dressed that way.  She stewed on that experience for years, avoiding being near her father.  She felt that he was being abusive, and she had been victimized. Finally after almost 10 years, I encouraged her to talk to her father and tell him how she felt.  He didn’t even remember the incident.  When we walk away from an incident like this, all we can remember is the last way we viewed the person, and how we felt about it.  We are not aware that everyone is changing and we are not the same people as we were 10 years ago or 10 years from now.  People change.  You see, she made it mean something abusive, when he was simply being a conscientious parent. She lost 10 years of, what could have been good times with her father, just because she could not get over this incident.

So, I encourage you to check with people, and make sure you are on the same page before you, take offense, burn bridges or cut yourself off from others permanently.  And stop and ask what people mean by what they say or how they act.

She says, “Why are you always repeating yourself?”

He: Rolls his eyes.

She says, “What do you mean by rolling your eyes at me?”

He says, “You don’t acknowledge me when I talk to you, so I repeat myself to make sure you heard me.”

Now, if she had not asked what he meant, what do you think she could have made it mean?

Another way to find out what people mean by what they say is to say, “If I understand what you’re saying”, (and then paraphrase what the person said).

He says, “I’m frustrated with this new class. I don’t know what the professor wants.”

She says, “If I hear you correctly, trying to figure out what the professor wants is frustrating you?”

He says, “I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you may be right.”

Judith R. BrownHawk   achukma1@gmail.com    509-879-5792