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When What’s Said Isn’t What’s Heard

Look, I have a big mouth and a quick wit, but I utilize those tools with the same gusto I employ when I buy orange Tic Tacs and pretend I’m not going to eat the whole box before we leave the Target parking lot. I speak first and ask forgiveness later, and usually only if I have to. I’m not always proud of it. My communication style can be…. ahem…. a lot for some people. Combine that with a law enforcement career that has conditioned me to expect the worst from people, and it can certainly be a recipe for disaster, especially with those I love most. 

One particularly HOT August evening a few years ago, I was headed home to Moore from work in north OKC. It was 102 degrees, the 5:30pm sun was blaring in the windows while the A/C tried to keep up, it was rush hour on I-35, and I had a really cranky, teething 11-month-old tightly strapped in her car seat behind me. To add insult to injury, I had two pounds of ground beef thawed and destined to become that evening’s meatloaf – and let me be absolutely clear – I hate meatloaf. I only make it occasionally, and only because my husband loves it.

So, it’s hot, I’m stuck in traffic with a screaming child, and I already knew I was going to hate dinner. Clearly, the day was going just swimmingly.

It took us nearly 90 minutes to get home, and the baby had been upset for the majority of it. My darling husband had already been home for two hours by the time I pulled into the garage. I got out of the car, completely frustrated, and he met us at the laundry room door with open arms. I handed him his screaming daughter and just said, “Here. Take this, please.” Of course, she was sound asleep in his arms in less than two minutes, which infuriated me even more. Because of course she sleeps for HIM.

I had entered that irrational plane of existence where everything was going to piss me off, dinner was essentially going to be a crap sandwich, and that’s just how the evening was going to be until I went to bed. 

By then, it was 7:00pm, and I knew the meatloaf was going to take forever. We probably wouldn’t eat until 9:00pm, I’d end up getting to bed super late, and that meant tomorrow would suck, too. (See what happens? I was a crazy person.) I waltzed into the kitchen, threw on an apron, and starting banging around the bowls and pans and pushing oven buttons. I was furious. Not really at anyone in particular, just at the whole day. With a beautiful baby girl sleeping soundly on his shoulder, my ever-calm husband walked into the kitchen,  glanced at the beginning stages of my meatloaf rage, and plainly said, “Whatcha doing?”

I was unmistakably irritated.  “What do you mean ‘What am I doing?’ I’m making your meatloaf.”

Maintaining that same calm demeanor, he replied, “Do you want to go get some tacos instead?”

And I absolutely lost my mind.

Stifling the volume that would’ve surely roused the baby, I snapped back, “WHAT?! You don’t like my meatloaf? I only make it for YOU. If you don’t like it, you need to tell me right now, because I will never make it again. You know I can’t stand that nonsense.” I ripped off my apron, walked out of the kitchen, and stormed into our bathroom to let the steam shoot out of my ears sans audience. 

He entered the bathroom a few seconds later, this time without the sleeping baby. He said (calmly, of course), “I can see you’ve had a rough day. You know I love your meatloaf, but that ground beef will be good tomorrow. I was just offering to take you out for tacos so you can relax a little.” Completely deflated, embarrassed, and more in love than I’d ever been, I hugged him with Jaws-of-Life pressure, and we went out.

Sometimes, we hear things that aren’t said, and sometimes, we say things that aren’t heard.

Several years after this happened, I began teaching a class that had some great tips on communication, but my favorite – by far – is this one: When someone says something you don’t quite understand or want to clarify, pause before you respond, and then instead of the verbal vomit you might normally spew, say something like this: “Okay, here’s what I hear you saying. I hear you saying you don’t actually want my meatloaf. I hear you saying you’d rather go out to eat.”

Then, give that person a chance to correct your interpretation, because they may not have said that at all. I’ve used this tactic with my family, doctors, coworkers, EVERYONE, and it really seems to keep those misunderstandings at bay. I’m not perfect, but all any of us can ever do is try to be better. 

Also, my meatloaf is absolutely terrible. He’s just a good liar.

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