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Miscommunications comedy

Superesse posted 1/12/2018 11:57 AM

Didn’t know what to call this topic, but just wanted some wisdom or wit on the subject of “innocent” miscommunication between partners in general, that is not due to being deliberately devious.

What do they sound like? What are the effects? And a hypothetical question I have is: “What the heck causes this kind of thing to happen so frequently?”

One example here happened this morning. The scene: our desk, with a bill sorter sitting on it, stuffed with unpaid bills. It is the kind you can organize each bill to be paid by its due date. WS has a business where his pay isn’t regular, but when he gets paid, it is a healthy chunk of money. So, he got a check from a client yesterday and this morning, he sat down to pay a lot of the monthly bills (bless him). He pulls them all out of the sorter, piles them on the desk top, and starts writing checks, working his way through the pile.

After he gets up from the desk, I ask a simple question: “How far did you get paying the bills?” He answers “I paid “a, b, c, d, e,” etc. Great, except I have to ask again, how far did you get? He then tells me that he didn’t get to my credit card statement, because it isn’t due until next week.

Okay, that is what I thought I would learn from him, if he had answered my first question. I don’t assume that he is trying not to answer? He just answers it in such a way that I cannot interpret back to where we are at for the month.

And this doesn’t just happen with certain topics, it is a regular crazy loop we do, trying to communicate. It happens quite often, but not all the time. I can’t explain this, and it is worrying me a bit, as he is almost 60, but then I remind myself he always has been like this. I just spend more time with him, since he works from home now.

Many times what happens is too involved to describe, but this one seemed fairly straightforward. It always seems I end up wanting to ask him follow up questions, which I don’t enjoy, because he missed the sense of my question. In this example, he answered as if I had asked him “Which bills did you pay?”

If there were multiple choice questions for him to answer, I feel like he would often choose an answer that would fit something similar, but would not be the best answer for the question.

Does anyone deal with this? If so, what do you think is the cause? I know this morning that he heard me clearly, he came over to me to talk, as I have learned to leave him alone to concentrate, until he is all finished. Oh, any verbal interruptions are a problem when he is working, too. Or driving.

It is sometimes really funny, if we were to be filmed during these attempts at communicating. Maybe I need to do a YouTube.

Lionne posted 1/12/2018 18:33 PM

Can I relate! Yesterday I (tried) to teach my husband how to use Google drive. He is still unclear on the difference between an ISP and a browser. He can't wrap his head around the cloud, even with tangible analogies. That's not so unusual, many people do, but our discussions remind me of "who's on first." I have to pull out all my teacher talents.
A few years back there was a commercial. A man, woman, police officer and a gorilla standing in the kitchen. She is saying "I ASKED him to get a pint of vanilla!" He heard gorilla.
A comedy of errors for sure.

Superesse posted 1/12/2018 19:15 PM

Haha, I thought you could relate, Lionne! Trouble is I am no teacher like you. I told him this evening to try to imagine me up on the roof, laying plywood pieces for a complicated roof framing job and he is down on the ground, in charge of cutting each piece as I call the measurements to him (or vice versa!) I worked with crews of men as a framing carpenter for a couple years, in my younger days. As I think he realizes, this kind of confusion just can’t keep happening on a job, or the guy who does it isn’t kept cannot afford to be stopping the job every other cut, to reiterate its description so that the other crew can understand your description.

With us, it is like if I say “how wide” he says “this tall!”

I don’t think it is deliberate....

maxandsen posted 1/12/2018 20:13 PM

Raises hand and waves it wildly

We do this all the time. I was exhausted after a phone conversation about some issues we were having with the remodel of our home. I would ask him about the position of an electrical plug and he would tell me about a light switch on the same wall. But that was after we spent 10 minutes making sure we were talking about the same wall

I tend to chalk it up to English is not his native language but I really don't think that is the issue. He has been living and working in English speaking countries for 30 years. I feel like he doesn't really listen to what I'm asking him. He hears the first part and then is already forming an answer before he hears the rest of the question.

I don't see it changing so I try not to get let it get to me but damn it's frustrating

Superesse posted 1/12/2018 20:50 PM

Hey max, no it could well be the issue, I think. My course in developmental psychology taught that children who do not hear a language by the time they are about age 2, prove never to be as accent-free making that language’s sounds, as if they had heard that language during their optimal brain development phase for acquiring spoken language, which is around age 2.

But then, ok, what does that say about my WS? His native language is English, just with a different accent. Do we blame it on his being from below the equator?

madseason posted 1/12/2018 20:56 PM

I have learned that for my husband it all has to do with how the question is phrased. In the situation you gave my question would have been "which bills specifically did you pay?" If I leave it too vague, then he answers in a similarly vague manner.

Superesse posted 1/12/2018 21:42 PM

madseason, you noticed I was not specific enough in my question. Thanks, you are right that I could have asked that, but at that moment, all I really was curious about, was how far out on the calendar we are good until (he has one or two more large invoices he’s expecting to get paid for mid-month, and there’s the dreaded estimated taxes to pay, by the 15th.).

With all his business expenses, and our post nup specified I am not a business “partner,” I mostly want to know which of “my” bills also need to be paid, like quarterly Medicare payment (due 1/25), my credit card (due 1/20, even though it is joint, he gave up his card with the post nup), so that I don’t lose my sense of self-responsibility. If he were to neglect that in all the mountains of bills, it could cause me big problems, and there would be no excuse; I would hate myself for that!

It is all too easy to cede control of bill paying in a marriage. And I will not make that mistake again, but right now, I am not the bill payer, and he is. And I really appreciate that he does it so well as he does.

But what often goes sideways is that I will ask a bigger-picture type question (it can be about just any subject) and he will deliver back an every-brick-in-the-wall type answer. I tend to ask from an outside-in approach, and he tends to respond to me from an inside-out perspective.

One of my college alumni seminars last year spoke about the different levels of abstractness that people use to talk, and how that causes difficulties. That sure seems to fit us, sometimes as in “How a concrete thinker cannot grasp an abstract question.” this the issue you guys have? (I don’t totally buy it...)

madseason posted 1/12/2018 23:07 PM

Ah. Okay. I was misunderstanding what you meant with the "how far did you get" comment. I wasn't thinking of it in terms of dates on the calendar and due dates. I was thinking more in terms of "there were 8 bills that needed to be paid and I paid 5 of them" in which case the question would be which 5. I see what you are saying now!

As far as in general, I still get where you are coming from though. I think one of the most-often used phrases from me over the course of our marriage has been "bottom line it for me. I don't have all day!"

hpv50 posted 1/13/2018 16:52 PM


After he gets up from the desk, I ask a simple question: “How far did you get paying the bills?” He answers “I paid “a, b, c, d, e,” etc. Great, except I have to ask again, how far did you get?

Ok, you lost me here. I had no idea what you meant by “how far did you get.” I interpreted it as “how many did you pay.” Repeating it twice didn’t help me.

For what it’s worth, I am a teacher and I’m used to people thinking that they are clearly communicating when they are not. It definitely can get comical.

[This message edited by hpv50 at 7:05 AM, January 14th (Sunday)]

Superesse posted 1/13/2018 17:26 PM

Wow, enlightening feedback, that’s two folks whom I have left confused with my “straightforward example”!! Yikes. I suppose I thought that by first describing how we organize our bills in a sorter by day due, readers would figure that we naturally would prioritize paying our bills by those due dates. In trying to be brief, I now see I left out some context, when I said he put them in a pile to start paying them. I meant that he started with first of the month and worked through them in calendar order, until he decided to stop. So I meant “how far” did he get, in the monthly bill cycle.

Thanks for letting me know this was vague. I will try to improve my written communication, too.

million pieces posted 1/13/2018 18:15 PM

I understood you perfectly, but I too am misunderstood a lot

marji posted 1/13/2018 18:49 PM

Super, sorry, but don't see the humor at all. And that's because this sort of thing goes on with us all the time and I never find it funny. Just irritating and sometimes trouble making.

Don't know why it happens. Just come to realize that H experiences language differently. Comes up a lot in therapy. C will ask H, "how does what M say make you feel" and H will repeat what I said. Or he'll say he "understood" or "got" what I said. C will ask again, "but how does it make you feel" and H will say something like "she makes sense" or repeat again what I said. This can go on for three or four times. Weird.

It's been an issue for a long time especially since he was a decently paid attorney and clients paid many, many dollars to speak with him. though the money didn't go to him. He was not a partner and I often suspected that his verbal skill issues might have stood in the way of promotion. He could speak ad nauseam about technical matters but not make interesting small talk. But small talk is probably a big matter of listening well.

Speaking is one thing. Listening and responding appropriately is something else. I used to tell (complain to) my IC that my H was someone who, upon being asked "do you have the time" might answer "yes." Language is complicated. Our Hs sometimes hear differently than we expect or want or need them to. Sometimes they just don't seem to get the question--something like the question but just a bit off track. But good to know your H always been that way so it's probably not a sign of dementia a topic I've considered seriously for some years now.

My H sometimes leaves out adjectives or key words. He might say "It's good" when he's thinking and means "It's no good." He sometimes thinks he's said something out loud when he actually just thought it. So sorry, Super have neither wisdom nor wit on this whole topic but great that you see its comic aspect. Im going to work on taking a lighter attitude toward the whole thing. Hey, if it can't be changed, and it's not horrible, best thing is to find the funny.

Lionne posted 1/13/2018 21:40 PM

So, I was an elementary teacher for 37 years. As a newbie, I thought my verbal lessons were refined and effective. What I failed to take into account is that for each of my 22-28 kids, I was saying something different. Language is a two way street, the listener's perception is affected by their own life experiences. I cannot tell you how many funny misunderstandings I had with kids over the years. One of my favorites is the Pledge of Allegiance. I taught my first graders the words and spent a significant amount of time trying to teach them what the words said. And still, this is what I often heard.

I send my pigeons to the flag, of the United States of America. And to the republic, for Richard Stands...

You get the idea. Too often, what we say is misunderstood simply because of the nature of the interaction.

different levels of abstractness that people use to talk, and how that causes difficulties.

Yep. I can relate to this in my marriage. I am extremely practical, very concrete, a list maker. My husband is abstract/random I am concrete/sequential according to one researcher's definition of mind styles. For instance, I deal with all the everyday finances. I know, within a few dollars, how much is in every account, how much we owe and when that bill is due, etc. I have NO MIND for investing, would prefer everything be in safe, concrete boring bank accounts or CDs. He delights in researching stocks and bonds and messing around with our investments. Our goals are the same, I respect that he's right that we need to do this, he respects that I'm right that we need a safety net. But discuss it? No way. We simply go around and around, speaking two different languages. It was much worse when we were first married, the power play dynamic was very much in effect. It's probably the ONLY thing that was directly improved as a result of the MC and IC we both did.

Super! An Aussie?! That explains SO MUCH! My H's mother was from Oz and he spent many years there. Definitely a different way of thinking...

(Just kidding, I love and enjoy all the Aussies I've met over the years)

And for sure...

Im going to work on taking a lighter attitude toward the whole thing. Hey, if it can't be changed, and it's not horrible, best thing is to find the funny.

[This message edited by Lionne at 9:42 PM, January 13th (Saturday)]

Superesse posted 1/13/2018 22:02 PM

Lionne, not quite from the land of Oz, he would be insulted, yet everybody always thinks he is from there, anyway. Their version of English is almost not our version of English, especially when you look at vocabulary! I had better not give too many funny examples of words that mean different things once you dip below the equator, where up is down and down is up, the water swirls down the commode in the opposite direction, Christmas is for lilies, not snow, and (my pet peeve as a former builder), if you want to scold somebody on a forum, you would hit them with a 4 x 2. Yup. Fun stuff.

ADryHeat posted 1/14/2018 15:37 PM

I always think of a very concrete example when ruminating on how language can interpreted. As a (male) professional mentor of mine always says: say what you mean.

So my funny example is this: When my son was 2 and newly potty trained, we went to the beach. This partially beach had a bathroom nowhere near the actual beach area where we planned to lay a blanket, so we visited it first so the kids could go potty before we lugged all our stuff out to the water. Of course, after we got settled on the beach my son comes and tells me he has to go potty. I weighed the options, but it would have required packing our stuff and driving over a mile to the nearest bathroom, so our convo went like this:

Me: Pee or poo?
Him: Pee.
Me: Ok, we don’t usually do this, but the potty is far. So, you can just pee in the ocean.
Him: In the water?
Me: Yeah, baby. It’s ok. Just do it.

So a minute later, I look and there’s my son, standing at ocean’s edge, trunks at his ankles, peeing INTO the water. The surfers a few yards out were cracking up.

What I MEANT was ‘Go into the water until you’re submerged enough that you can pee under water without anyone seeing.’

What he HEARD was ‘Go stand by the water and pee into it like it’s a potty.’

As it turns out, he did EXACTLY what I said, because I didn’t say EXACTLY what I meant.

Clarity matters.

Superesse posted 1/14/2018 15:45 PM

Cute! What a good boy!!

little turtle posted 1/14/2018 16:07 PM

I, too, was confused by your billing question. I didn't gather that you were asking for a date in your question until you said so in a later post. I'd include that info. Maybe asking something like "what date did you get the bills paid to?"

I would guess that much miscommunication between you 2 is simply that - miscommunication. He is responding to what he is hearing.

Something that may help with this is to do an exercise that you say something and he repeats back to you what he heard.

TrustedHer posted 1/14/2018 18:49 PM

It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.
--Karl Popper

I work in IT, and have for a long, long time.

In spite of years of training and experience, miscommunication continues to be one of the largest problems to deal with. Sometimes, I get a problem report and I don't have any idea what is broken in the first place, let alone how it is broken. Sometimes I think I understand what they're talking about, only to find it was something else all along. And sometimes I fix the wrong thing, or fix it in the wrong way, based on what I (mis)understood was the issue. I say this as someone who is actually very good at this stuff.

I went to praise one of my co-workers one day for working so hard to find a solution to a user's problem, and she blew up at me. It turns out she thought I was making fun of her for finding the hardest possible way to fix the problem.

Dealing with people is much harder than dealing with computers. Just sayin'.

Superesse posted 1/16/2018 01:56 AM

TrustedHer, thanks for your insightful comment and the quote. My late father was an IT guy for a defense dept. agency, and hoooboy the stories he used to bore me with, as he tried to help computer illiterates do their jobs and look good to their bosses. I was reminded of his tortured stories by what you shared, got it and much appreciated.

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