Oh, the agony of miscommunication! Several years ago, I went sight-seeing with a group of tourists in a foreign country. We rode on a double-decker bus. The weather was perfect. To top it off, we had an immaculately dressed tourist guide who seemed to know every nook and cranny of each brief stop. Much as I enjoyed the guide’s lively commentary, I was finding it a little hard to pay attention to what he was saying. I was still tired as I had just arrived late the night before.
An hour later, as I was getting off the bus, I said to him, “I really enjoyed the ride. But I was kind of sleepy.” He looked puzzled; his brows furrowed. Then he said, “Oh, I’ll make sure I do better next time!”
It took a while before my weary brain fully registered what he meant. He had thought that his commentary was lacklustre, that I had found it boring and because of that, I almost fell asleep! But before I could say anything, he had jumped back onto the bus which began to move to its next destination. There I was on the kerb, dumbfounded and my heart went down when I realized my mistake. Instead of complimenting the man for a job well done, I had sent him a message that was perceived as just the opposite.
What happened? He assumed I was talking about his performance. I assumed he had understood that, as a tourist who had just flown in, I was still jet-lagged. But how would he have known that I had just arrived the night before? It was a case of MISTAKEN ASSUMPTIONS on both sides.
This is but only one instance when miscommunication occurs and words fail to deliver their intended message. In the real world, a small miscommunication can spark a major misunderstanding and provoke hard feelings between parents and teen boys if not dealt with in a timely and effective way.
Apart from MISTAKEN ASSUMPTIONS, numerous other reasons exist that may prevent parents from conveying what they intend to communicate to boys or from listening to and understanding boys effectively.
Sometimes we use AMBIGUOUS WORDS.
Example: If you say to your son, “The laptop won’t cost much at all.” How much is “not much” to you? Five thousand bucks? Three thousand? The phrase “not much” carries more than one meaning and is therefore ambiguous. Besides, “not much” to you may mean a lot to your son and vice-versa.
Example: Suppose you say, “I dislike irritating boys.” Do you mean you dislike boys who are irritating? Or do you mean you do not like to irritate boys?
Example: If your son says, “I hit the boy with a bat.” Did he hit the boy using a bat? Or did he hit the boy who was holding a bat?
In these cases, using ambiguous words causes confusion because the words or phrases we use have more than one meaning.
It can be MESSAGE OVERLOAD; when you say too much, some of it will be lost. This happens when too many messages are given at once or too quickly.
Example: If you say, “Johan, I want you to go school, meet Teacher Z, go to the library, call the dentist, make an appointment and make sure you water the roses today by 3pm. By the way, Uncle K will call late this evening. Tell him I can’t make it to the meeting tonight since I have another appointment.” I doubt Johan will remember half of what you said.
It can be the LISTENER’S EMOTIONS. If you are exhausted, you may not listen to what your son is saying. Neither would your son listen to you if he is upset or distressed. That is why, as much as possible, it is better to wait for a time when you and your son are not rushing or too tired to discuss something important. It’s not a good idea to start a crucial conversation when you are running late for work and only have two minutes to spare. Or when you have had a bad day. Or when your son had just arrived home from school. Heavy discussions need fresh minds. What if it’s something urgent? Say it in as simple a way as possible which makes it less likely to be misunderstood.
By now, you will realize just how easily miscommunication can occur. If you are not careful, you run the risk of having misunderstandings with not just your son, but anyone else you talk with for that matter. Besides, our daily exchanges are spontaneous. How we process words may vary from person to person. Don’t get too upset when you try to talk to your son and the conversation doesn’t go the way you want it. Try again another time.
It’s What You Say and How You Say It
If that was ineffective communication, what is effective communication, then? There are always three items in any communication:
- the sender;
- the receiver; and
- the message.
Effective communication takes place when the intended message gets to the receiver. Of course, communication is not just a matter of words. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice all communicate the message you want to convey.
[Adapted from Cool Boys Super Sons. Other books by Jamilah Samian: Cool Mum Super Dad, The Kindness Miracle, Leadership In Parenting, Parenting Generation Y & Z