When my eldest son was little, I’d pick him up from play-group and we’d walked happily home discussing what had happened that day, what we were going to do or where we were going to go or the many adventures of Superman.
Mother and small boy happy and glad to see each other – until…
“OK – so, what would you like for lunch?”
He’d have a think before he answered and then he might say – “I’d like chips”, or “I’d like potatoes and chicken,” or “I’d like ice-cream.”
So, I’d say – “No, no – you can’t have ice-cream or chips for lunch, you need to have something that’s healthy.”
“Like potatoes and chicken?”
“OK, like potatoes and chicken – you can have that later. Not for lunch.”
“But I want it for lunch!”
“Well, you can’t have it for lunch – choose something else – how about beans on toast or a cheese sandwich?”
“But I don’t want that! I want chicken and potatoes or ice-cream…”
Anyway, you get the picture – he’d be angry and upset and I’d be angry and upset and both of us would be full of self-righteous indignation as we stomped home.
And then, one day I finally realised what was happening.
He was answering the question I’d asked.
Which would have been fine except that I was actually asking a different question than the one I was forming with my words.
I was asking him what he wanted to eat for lunch and, as he was a small child, he was taking me at my word and answering the question.
The fact was, though, what I was really asking him was, “What you would like for lunch from a) the food at present in our house and b) food present which also satisfies my criteria for what constitutes a healthy lunch.”
So, I changed my questions.
“OK – what could you like for lunch – eggs, or cheese or bananas?”
“Ham sandwich or peanut butter?”
“Chicken noodle soup or cheese on toast?”
And because he was as reasonable as all small children, he immediately adapting by answering the question and choosing between the options I presented.
Problem solved. Happy walking home for mother and boy after that. Back to talking about important things like Superman instead of bickering about lunch.
As adults we ask – and answer – questions and unconsciously try to interpret the background nuances and circumstances and expect others to do the same.
We rely on other people to do some of our thinking without our ever stating what we really think – “I can’t believe she asked me to do that!”
We rely on others to make it alright for us – “How could he accept that second cup of tea I offered – didn’t he know I was tired?”
To second guess our needs – “I know I offered but…”
Maybe we should try being more accurate when we express ourselves?
Would it prevent more misunderstandings?
First, though, we’d have to know what we want to say ourselves – and maybe that’s the really difficult part?
What do we truly want to say?