Let's Talk

That’s Not What I Meant!


MP900285119“But you said. . . .”

“No, I didn’t. . . .”

“Yes, I heard you say. . . . .”

“Well, that’s not what I meant!”


Have you ever had such a conversation with your children or your spouse? You were sure you said what you believed would be easily understood. And yet, that is not what the other person heard.


When we talk to one another, communication is traveling both ways. Messages we send and the messages we hear are colored and often distorted by the filters we have. What sounded clear to us was not heard the same way by another..


Because messages are being loaded on each side of the interaction, by both the speaker and the listener, communication can become unclear and misleading.


We can better make sense of the process if we think about the messages we send as going through a filter that reflects your life in the moment. The message received is also going through a listener’s filter. When we become aware of our filters, we can better transmit messages.


What are some of the filters that make communication difficult?

When you get up in the morning grumpy and tired from lack of sleep your mood will influence how you speak. If on top of that you have had a bad day at work, everything went wrong that could go wrong and you return home angry and even more tired. Let’s say the kids are having a great day and are especially exuberant – but you see it as not being considerate about others in the house, your tone and speech will reflect that. If you have been troubled by events that affect you and your spouse, unspoken conflicts that grow in tension, you tenor of voice will reflect that as well.


On the receiving end, your child, co-worker, spouse, boss or anyone else you are conversing with will have their own problems of the day, unsolved problems, unresolved conflicts and concerns. They may be having a good day while you are having a bad one. They may be fighting off a cold and not be as attentive as you think they should.


The messages sent and received will take on a whole new persona. How you feel in the moment, your psychological state of mind and the aches and pains you have will all affect how you formulate your conversation and how the words are heard.


So, is there any hope for us?


Yes. Here are some simple things that can help.


Listening and Validation


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

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.




When you give feedback you tell the speaker how you have interpreted the message sent. You are asking for clarification of what you heard, you don’t just assume. If the conversation is turning into an argument, you ask for a stop in the conversation – a request to stop a moment to check on feelings, intent and impact.



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

“Wait, stop a minute. How are you feeling right now?”



Messages contain both content and emotional meaning.


“You promised to go on a family outing this Saturday

I am upset that you have made different plans.”



Give appropriate feedback through paraphrasing, clarification and perception checks.


Paraphrasing is rephrasing or rewording what was said. This is especially useful when instructions are given. It can prevent incorrect inference about instructions given or you are unsure of what you heard and understood was accurate and intended. The person paraphrasing is not being disrespectful or insulting.


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


“I heard you say _____________   Is that true?

“Did you say __________ ?

“Do you mean _____________?


Perception Check is when we describe 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 is feeling.


“This is how I understand your feelings. Am I accurate?”

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

“Am I right that you feel disappointed when your mother criticized you?”

“I am not sure if you are confused or angry at me?”


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 in the moment.  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.

Marlene A

Leave a Comment