The Art Of Communication – II

Expectations & Assumptions

Communication is one of those things that people often mess up with expectations and assumptions. We expect people to respond to our communications in a certain way and when they don’t many people don’t know what to do. Assumptions are equally as good at messing up communications as well. But the good thing is, they don’t have to with a few little changes in our thinking.

CommunicationI read an article recently by a journalist who shared a personal story relating to a miscommunication between her and her husband. Only I felt her conclusions to her story were missing a key point. She made assumptions that impacted her expectations and created the problem. Basically the short side of the story was this. The journalists husband was given the afternoon off because of a job well done on a recent project. He called his wife and told her about the nice reward. She decided to cancel her afternoon, pick their daughter up from school, ran by the grocery store and planned a nice special afternoon for the entire family. The time went by when her husband should have been home, but he had not arrived. Of course she tried to contact him on his cell phone, but there was no answer. Another hour went by and she was becoming angry. Two hours went by and her anger grew. Finally after 3 hours, in walks her husband all smiles and happy only to be met with her anger. She laid into him and in his defense he reciprocated the anger. In the argument he announced that his phone died and he didn’t have a way to charge it. Ok that explained the cell phone. His delay in coming home occurred because he took the opportunity to get a hair cut and stop by a store for shaving cream on his way home. Ok that explains where he was.

The journalist completed the synopsis of the story by stating that the two of them agreed to remain in contact and tell each other exactly what was going on when schedules change. Ok..what?! Let’s back up a second. She made an assumption, didn’t tell him she changed her plans and scheduled him for a family afternoon. Yet it was some how his fault for not showing up for an activity he knew nothing about in the first place. What?!

Here’s where assumptions get the better of us. We often hear something and make assumptions about what we heard. Based on those assumptions we make choices or changes in our day that culminate in an expectation. If the expected result does not occur who’s really to blame here? Did the journalist really have the right to get angry and take her frustration out on her husband? Sure he could have told her what he was going to do, but what if he hadn’t thought about his free afternoon until after he left the building. Many of us have done that. With a dead cell phone, how would he notify her about his new plans?

No matter what the scenario you paint here, I’m left asking, why should he notify her in the first place. It’s his free afternoon and while she may be his wife/partner does anyone want to be controlled every moment of the day and required to ‘check in’ with their spouse? It’s a solution that isn’t feasible or reasonable when put into practice.

The real problem here is that the journalist chose to get angry when her plans, that she didn’t share, failed to pan out. Her expectation of always being able to get hold of her husband exacerbated the anger. The onus is on her and not him at all. Planning the afternoon was a nice gesture. But her problem wasn’t that the plan didn’t work out, it was in the assumption she made and expectation she formed.

A friend of mine told me a long time ago “the moment you Expect anything from someone else, you’re setting them up to fail”. Inevitably when your expectation isn’t meet, you allow anger or hurt feelings take over and dictate your response.

One of the other big issues behind assumptions and expectations often comes from the idea that your partner/family knows how you feel every moment of the day. How many times have you heard someone say “He’s my husband, he should know how I feel and what I want”? Really? Why? Because he can read your mind? Like you can actually read his? This is the most common communication problem with couples. Holding the expectation that your partner knows everything about you, what you’re thinking and what you want. That assumption is the number one issue that begins the downfall of all failed relationships.

So let’s be clear here, no one knows how you feel or what you want by osmosis. If you need a hug, you’re going to have to ask for it. If you make the assumption that others should know it and you expect a hug out of the blue, then you’re going to be disappointed. Another issue relating to this are the people who say “I left a ton of hints”. Again you’re making an assumption and expecting your partner to clearly get the hint and do what you want or need them to do for you. Your expectation is indeed setting them up to fail. So don’t get angry or feel hurt when they don’t get it.

Whither you’re talking to your family, a partner or friend, if you need something you’re going to have to verbalize it. When you’re talking to your romantic partner you should be able to express your feelings and needs without fear or embarrassment. If you can’t, there’s a bigger issue going on than just communication. But for those people who can share anything openly and with total trust, nothing is off-limits and you each can find a way to discuss your needs, desires, plans, feelings or whatever you need to discuss. You’ll have a closer relationship that is based not only on trust, but also on deeper communication.
 
© 2012 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D., Springwolf Reflections / Spring’s Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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4 thoughts on “The Art Of Communication – II

  1. Thanks for responding but I’m sorry to say I have tried both of your suggestions and I think it just comes down to as I grow spiritually, those around me stay stagnant with no desire to grow in any way….sad but true. They revel in the “drama”. Recent circumstances have made it so I am in more contact with parts of my family that are so toxic I can physically feel the negativity when I’m around them. It amazes me that people actually choose to live that way.

    • Some people live on drama and as much as we try to guide them to a more productive way, they’re not ready to listen. The most you can do in those cases is walk away and allow them to follow their path where it leads them. And follow yours in the best way you can. Living to your own convictions can be hard sometimes. But sometimes, it’s all you can do.

  2. Carol, It’s definitely not easy to remain calm when you walk in to an unexpected ‘blasting’ over something that really wasn’t your fault in the first place. The problem with any reaction the recipient has in those situations is that the person who’s angry usually has had hours to build up to an overwhelming boiling point. So before you can do anything about the situation, they need to calm down a little.

    Each situation is different of course, but one option is to simply state “I’m not going to discuss this until you calm down” and walk away. They can’t fight with you, if you’re not on the battlefield.

    One option that would take a lot of emotional control from the recipient is to walk up to the offender and give them a hug. Such an action would hopefully be so disarming that they are forced to calm down and you can speak with them without anger. This one is hard because the last thing you want to do is hug the person yelling at you. But imagine how effective it would be.

    Then there’s always a direct approach, simply telling them they have no right to be angry. Their expectations and assumptions were they’re responsibility and not yours.

    In my perspective, the husband also made an assumption that his wife would continue her usual schedule and it didn’t matter if he stopped off to get a hair cut and go on a quick shopping chore. Both sides made an assumption and expectation; but only one side set the other up to fail and became angry.

  3. I’m in agreement with you all the way. While you addressed where the journalist had not communicated properly, I’m wondering where you stand on the husband’s point of view. To walk in the door and get blasted with anger when she didn’t “communicate” and then he retaliates with anger.
    Now, having been on the receiving end of such a blast and knowing that this person (ie. the journalist) didn’t communicate their feelings,plans, etc., I feel the need to smooth things over when I feel the whole situation wasn’t my fault to begin with. Then later I’ll be angry with them and myself for doing such. I have no clue what to do with the anger, I have in these circumstances. So that leads me to ask what do you think is the most just or proper way to handle this. I seem to find a outsider looking in always has a point of view I haven’t tried or considered. These types of situations usually happen with family, those I can’t stop dealing with. People that have so many issues that have nothing to do with me. I seem to take all this into consideration when trying to smooth things over.

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