I’m fascinated by the different ways in which people use language. For me, understanding how and why a person is using the words they are is key to really understanding the meaning of what is being said. In fact, many conflicts are based on misunderstanding of another person’s vocabulary.
One of my favourite examples of this type of misunderstanding occurred years ago at the local health centre. An elderly man in front of me was having a heated exchange with the receptionist. Voices were raised and it was impossible not to overhear the conversation. The man was asking where he could get his prescription. The receptionist said that the doctor would give it to him. He replied that he had seen the doctor already and now needed to get his prescription. The receptionist said he should have got it from the doctor.
The man was clearly frustrated and said that the doctor didn’t give him his prescription. The argument continued, each party getting more and more exasperated until, finally, the man slammed down a printed sheet of paper and said, "well, where am I going to get these tablets?"
At last! The receptionist realised what he meant. The receptionist was referring to that piece of paper as the prescription whereas the man was referring to the medication written on it. She pointed him in the direction of the pharmacy and all was sorted.
Many of our arguments and upsets are based on similar misunderstandings. We assume that others are using words in the same way as we are, when they might actually be attaching a different meaning to them. So, when you’re involved in a disagreement think about exactly what’s being said on both sides – clarify your understanding of what the other person means, don’t make assumptions and try describing your side differently. You might find there is less disagreement than you think.
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