Perception Check

August 17, 2016

It Pays to be Careful with Our Communication

This is the second in a series of blog posts on Building Relationships. We began this series on August 3, 2016 with an All-too-Common Scenario that leads to this conclusion: it pays to be careful with our communication! Since most people are eager to create healthier ways of relating to one another, this series continues with the first of six sensible, practical guidelines that can go a long way toward helping you and the members of your congregation become more effective in building healthy relationships. Here are the guidelines we’ll consider:

  • Perception Check
  • Create Meaning
  • Diminish Defensiveness and Foster a Supportive Climate
  • Use both Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
  • Raise Your listening IQ
  • Face and Handle Conflict

Now, on to our first guideline: perception check.

I find that about 75% of careless communication happens when we unconsciously assume that we understand each other. In other words, without even realizing it, we wrongly assume that we understand one another. It’s like getting into an argument, and after 45 minutes of frustrating, spiraling conversation, saying, “Oh, is that what you mean?”

Unfortunately, when we assume we understand each other’s meaning, too often we fail to take the time to listen carefully enough to perceive accurately what each other means to say. A useful practice is to say something like, “So the way you see it is. . .” and put in our own words what we understand the other person to mean. We may also ask our conversational partner, “please tell me what you think I mean.” There is one further step we need to take. We need to be sure we wait for each other’s response, for often we haven’t accurately understood, to the other’s satisfaction.

So, rather than unconsciously assume we understand one another, it pays to check our perceptions by paraphrasing one another’s meanings. This is especially important when our conversation includes strongly held ideas or below-the-surface feelings. It may well be the case that pausing and taking the time to check our perception of what each of us is getting at is the single most important skill we can employ to help us create healthy relationships where we feel understood and taken seriously.

[Note: for a more in-depth understanding about perception checking, see Communication in the Church: A Handbook for Healthier Relationships, an Alban publication from Rowman & Littlefield, available October 2016]

*** The next blog post considers guideline 2: create meaning.***