I am neither a daughter nor am I a mother. And yet, I just got done reading Deborah Tannen's book that explores how mothers communicate with their grown daughters. It's a book that I actually picked up for Stacy to read right before we left for Vietnam. I had heard the author on NPR, and she seemed very engaging. The book also appeared to be a timely buy since we were getting ready to go adopt our daughter. However, we did not do a ton of reading on our trip, so That? just sat around the house for the past three months.
In an effort to branch out from my typical theological fare, I started working through That? a few weeks ago. Sometimes it took some work for me to stay with it, because even though I found the book interesting there weren't a lot of times where I could authentically identify with the case studies. That is understandable, seeing as though I'm not a woman. I am interested to pick up Tannen's exploration of how men and women communicate, because I'm sure it will strike closer to home. Overall, I enjoyed the read. It was interesting to have a lens through which to translate conversations between women, and there were also a lot of nuggets about communication that would be helpful to anyone.
What really stood out most in my mind is the fact that we do not take very much time to think through how we say what we say. We typically communicate using certain intrinsic rules that essentially allow us to communicate on auto-pilot. The problem is that even family members can use different rules when talking, and we tend to project our own set of rules onto everyone in the conversation. The result is that we then misinterpret what other people are saying, and they misinterpret what we are saying. Stir in a healthy portion of emotion (which is often the case when mothers and daughters are in conversation), and it is no wonder these relationships can have their stressful moments.
The above points are so important to remember when we are having heated discussions with people. To step back and evaluate how we are saying what we are saying, and how other people hear and understand us can only serve to make us better communicators and better listeners. As I was reading the book, I found that I was doing a better job at evaluating why what people would say would make me feel adversely toward them. Comments or suggestions that I was viewing as overly critical, were in reality not so. By defining the lenses through which I was listening and reacting I was able to get over my ego in certain instances.
I remember a specific time when Stacy asked me to do something, and I resulted by internally pouting. As I stopped to think about it, I realized that I was interpreting her request as subtle criticism. In actuality it was simply a request. It is true that sometimes people make requests or suggestions as a passive-aggressive way to drop hints, but that is not Stacy's MO. So I took a deep breath, told myself to get over my infatuation with self and honor my wife by doing what she had asked me to do. A passive-aggressive reaction would have certainly made a non-situation a bad situation, and for no good reason.
It's amazing what happens when we put a little effort into listening and speaking. Perhaps as adults developing those skills will help us to have more functional and authentic relationships.