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That’s Not What I Meant: 6 Tips to Improve Your Communication

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“But you said. . . ”

“No, I didn’t. . . ”

“Yes, I heard you say. . . ”

“Well, that’s not what I meant!”

And so, it goes – round and round and round and we end up with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend and destroy each other.

Anger builds as each continues to dig in their heels and insist they are right, and the other is wrong. You probably have had such conversations or have witnessed them. Discussions at this point soon move into the blame game:

“You always try to pin the blame on me. If you were here instead of out golfing, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Oh, and how about you – out shopping again.”

The conversation has gone beyond misunderstanding and name calling.

When we find ourselves in constant conflict, we believe that if only the other person would listen and see our point of view, we wouldn’t be having such discussions. If you cared, wouldn’t you understand my needs?

The problem is that the other person is thinking the same thing. And since neither person is listening to the other, the conflict intensifies. We have left the realm of compromise, negotiation and understanding, and love and grace are kicked in the corner.

That’s Not What I Meant | focuswithmarlene.com

Communication travels back and forth from speaker to listener.

Messages sent and messages heard are often contrary or conflicting and at times, misleading. What sounded obvious to me in the words I spoke may not have been what you heard. Because the intent of our conversation is often unclear, communication becomes vague and ambiguous.

As mentioned in last week’s post, Relationships Under Stress, our communication, verbally and nonverbally, goes through a filtering system. A filter reflects life in the moment. The message sent and received is going through two filters. When we become aware of our filters, it can help us better transmit messages and listen effectively.

Here is an example of filters that make communication difficult:

You get up in the morning grumpy and tired from lack of sleep. Your mood influences how you communicate to others in the family. Add to that a bad day at work where everything went wrong that could go wrong, and you return home disgruntled, angry and even more tired.

Let’s say the kids are having a great day and are especially exuberant – but you see their running and rough housing as not caring about you or others in the home. When you speak to them, the words and tone of voice reflect that. If you have had underlying issues with your spouse, those unresolved issues will be reflected in the tone of your voice as well.

Perhaps your child, co-worker, spouse, boss, or anyone else you are conversing with is also having a bad day with unresolved problems and concerns. Your words ignite a desire to react with the same anger.

Or, they may be having a good day while you are having a bad one and are wondering why you sound so angry with them. What did I do?

Messages sent and received take on a whole new dimension and psychological impact when laced with frustration, anger, or irritation. Others aren’t aware of what is creating this harshness in your voice and comments. How you feel in the moment, your psychological state of mind, aches and pains, unidentified aggravations or annoyances will affect how you formulate your conversation and how it is heard.

Here are 6 quick tips and examples to remember about communication.

1. A good speaker states exactly what he or she is thinking, wanting or feeling.

“Based on what I know right now, this is how I view the problem.”


“I am really tired, and I need a few minutes to unwind from my day at work. I would appreciate about ten minutes of down time before we start dinner.”

2. Messages contain both content and emotional meaning.

“You made a commitment to go on a family outing this Saturday. I am upset that you have made different plans.”

3. Let people know you are listening.

Stop what you are doing and give your attention to the speaker. Use uh huh, I see, and other verbal and physical ways to let the other know you are paying attention.

4. Listen and validate.

A good listener makes sure the intent of the speaker’s message is understood. We do that by asking questions or giving feedback instead of just filling in the gaps with assumptions or guesses.

5. Give appropriate feedback through paraphrasing, clarification, and perception checks.

With feedback, you tell the speaker how you have interpreted the message sent.

Paraphrasing is repeating exactly what was said.

This is especially useful when instructions are given. It prevents resentment, irritation, and incorrect inference about motives if instructions are not carried out usually because the person either did not remember or heard incorrectly. The person is not being disrespectful or insulting.

Clarification is stating what was said in your own words. It explores the meaning of what you heard:

“I heard you say _____________ . Is that correct?

“Did you say __________ ?

“Do you mean _____________?

Perception Check is describing how you observe the other person’s feelings. A perception check is not used to express disapproval or approval but simply conveys the desire to better understand how the other person is feeling.

“I get the impression you are angry with me when you become quiet. Are you?

“Am I right that you feel frustrated when your mother always criticizes us?

“I am not sure what I have said that is consuming or if you are just angry with me?”

6. Time Out

If the conversation turns into an argument, ask for stop action or a time out. A stop action is a request to check on feelings, intents, and impacts.

“Let’s stop a minute. I think we are getting away from the problem.”


“Wait, stop. I’m getting upset. How are you feeling right now?”

The next time you are in a conversation and you find yourself getting irritated, check your feeling state and what is going on in your life right now.

Check the things that might be making your conversation tense for potential misunderstanding.

Make adjustments.

If you are a listener, do the same and then use the skills of paraphrasing, feedback and confirming to nip problems in the bud.

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