Oh, and yeah, it's not true. Ish.
And no, I'm not going to separate each paragraph with one sentence and then start the next one off with a quote. See? This is three-ish sentences!
Words matter, a lot. We know that your facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice can't be over-emphasized, but there's really no nice way to say to someone, "Wow, you're an ass." No matter how much you contort your face, uncross/recross your arms, squeak while attempting to say it in a high-pitched voice, or swear to the person on the receiving end that you were talking about a donkey costume from Halloween 2004, he's not going to take it well. And he shouldn't, because you were just being an ass by saying that. Oh, the irony.
In a conversation, we are always saying something for a reason. By the very nature of communication, we are trying to get the present situation to either change or maintain to our advantage.
Wait, are you just basically saying that everything that we say is ultimately selfish?
Yes, yes I am. I'll dive more into that in a future post, but for our purposes here, just take my word for it. We tell our children to not run with scissors because WE want them to not hurt themselves (and break that expensive pair of scissors). It would tear us apart to see our children get injured. If it didn't affect us, then we wouldn't tell them not to. We tell our significant others that we love them because WE want to maintain a relationship with them (or at least convince ourselves of that). If we didn't want to continue those relationships, then we wouldn't tell them that. So on and so forth.
While tone matters, what we say is very important, both in terms of context and content. Let's face it, we live in a world that is more and more taking place in the space of 140 characters (for those wondering what I'm talking about: that's the limit on a text message or tweet). Everything is a quick text more or less, and what you say, whether in English or in text speak (LOL), is absolutely critical. When you send a text, typically that person can read it pretty soon after you send it, and they understand the context of what you're saying. Sometimes, though, someone may not get a text for hours, and he may not know what you're talking about.
You and your wife are running around trying to not be late for work, and she tells you to remember to pick up milk on the way home. Towards the end of the day, you see a text from her saying, "Don't forget to pick it up", and so you are wracking your brain trying to remember what you were supposed to buy at the store, or did she mean to pick up the pace? You're already rushing. That's so obnoxious of her to say to you as she knows how hectic the end of the day is for you and what traffic is going to look like on 95. You get home, and you're mad at her. You pick a fight over her attitude, she gets defensive, and before you know it you're informed that you'll be sleeping on the couch tonight, won't be able to sleep, and have to make a cup of warm milk in order to go to sleep. Oh wait, we don't have any milk. Why didn't she remind me to pick it up?
Another way that this could have happened:
You and your wife are running around trying to not be late for work, and she tells you to remember to pick up milk on the way home. Towards the end of the day, she sends you a text saying, "Don't forget to pick up the milk." You stop at a Wawa near your house, grab a gallon, wait for the new clerk to figure out how to ring it up, and you're home in a flash and you can continue to pretend to care about what's going on during tonight's episode of "Grey's Anatomy." And everyone's happy. Because you're that good of a husband/are just thankful that she's not begging you to help her figure out how to beat this level on Candy Crush.
The only difference there was the inclusion of what, exactly, you were supposed to pick up. She assumed that you knew, and you assumed that you knew what she meant. You thought you were right, she thought she was right. You were both wrong. Now you're sleeping on the couch and she's posting an Instagram of your empty pillow with the hashtag #RememberTheMilkNextTime .
What went wrong here was that you both assumed that you knew what the correct context of the other's message was, and you assumed that the other knew what the context was, and neither of those happened. How do we fix this? Easy mode. Think about why she's your wife: You love her, and you love her because she "gets" you. So, why on Earth would she say something that condescending and rude at the end of your day? If it seems like it's out of character for her, then just ask what she meant by that. She'll tell you that it was the milk, you'll remember, and then the night can end happily.
This is one of those few universal techniques that are super simple and can make *all* of your relationships better, whether with your significant other, your kids, your coworkers, the EZ Pass customer service representative, anyone. If you feel slighted, then ask what the other person meant. It's typically not going to be offensive, and that minute that it takes to clarify what she meant can save you a night's worth of trouble. On the other side, make sure that what you're saying is clear, and if the person to whom you're talking gets defensive, then ask him what he thinks that you meant by what you said, and then you can clarify it to avoid the cold shoulder at the office for the next week.
I've worked with a lot of people on this, and it tends to work like a charm. It takes some getting used to, but it will save you a ton of time and frustration. It's also not hard; it's just a pain in the Halloween 2004 costume, which is what you meant all along, right?
Shoot me an e-mail or drop me a line, and we can get started working on these simple little communication glitches and make all of your relationships in life a little bit less complicated.
Remember: Nobody said that it would be easy, but nobody said that you had to do it alone.