Understanding Misunderstandings

A misunderstanding is a failure to understand, a disagreement, or a quarrel. Sometimes people just do not get each other, and when that happens it can provoke conflict. Most of us can probably relate to what it’s like to feel misunderstood: the tension, the angst, the awkwardness, and sometimes disappointment that comes with the inability to get one’s point across. I would suggest however, that a misunderstanding starts before either party feels misunderstood.

To shed further light on this topic, engage in this paradigm shift: a misunderstanding is not merely just something that happens between people, but rather it is its own entity; as such, it is inaccurate to say that people have misunderstandings with one another, rather, people experience misunderstandings together. Think of it like the adage: “my side, your side, and the truth”. A misunderstanding in a similar way is each person having their own perspective influenced by their own subjective truth, then there is a topical consensus that has yet to be agreed upon.

If I say one thing, and someone else says another that rejects the thing I just said, there is a misunderstanding. Not because my point is not being accepted by the other person, or vice versa, but rather because there is not an agreed upon consensus among both parties. Someone refuting the point made by another person is not necessarily argumentative in intent, it is them engaging with the misunderstanding itself. For a person to feel as though they are misunderstood would suggest, there is likely the case that neither party involved is communicating effectively.

An example of this, I use to get into constant fights with my best friend. They were never over anything that mattered, however, getting to the bottom of our disagreements would be and still is essential to the health of our friendship. Whenever there was a misunderstanding, I would be on defense, afraid to engage, and confused on why my words were not resonating with my friend. I felt misunderstood, not because we could not get over our disagreement, but because I thought my value as a person was being undermined.

This can and does happen all the time in misunderstandings, but it is important for us to dissect what is taking place in such an instance. There is a difference in one feeling misunderstood, and one being misunderstood. For a person to be truly misunderstood means that there is a discrepancy of comprehension of that individual; and would necessitate that the one doing the misunderstanding is being dismissive of that misunderstood person’s lived experience. In other words, for us to be misunderstood by someone means that we are not accepted for who we are by that person. The disagreement is with who a person is and is not isolated to what that person said or may say.


If we do not understand the way in which the individual we are engaging with, identifies with the world around them, we cannot understand their viewpoint. This is easier said than done because for us to be able to accept someone else’s personage, we must be both perceptive and receptive. We have to be able to recognize the implicit truth of an explicit statement, then we have to be able to engage with that truth. This is where arguments and breakdown in communication tend to happen. People naturally tend to not speak their mind or say how they really feel. We would rather avoid a potential conflict all together than disagree with someone. The Irony in this behavior is, if we want to have less misunderstandings, we have to be willing to engage in them first. A misunderstanding is a thing that should be combated. It’s not enough to identify when a misunderstanding is happening, we must take the extra step and be willing to do battle with them.

That’s how I improved. I removed myself from the situation and took an objective look at what was happening. I realized that I was allowing my emotions to get the best of me and was mistaking what I was feeling with what was actually happening. I leaned into the misunderstanding and made a concerted effort to better understand my friend as a person. in doing so I was able to let my guard down, be confident in my perspective, and fundamentally change how we communicated.  if we put our emotions in check when we engage in a misunderstanding, we will be less willing to accept the identity of misunderstood. Now my best friend and I have less misunderstandings, and when we do engage in one, they are far less incendiary. This is because not only do we understand how each of us may identify with a topic or issue, but now we are both also willing to communicate about the disagreement until we get to an agreed upon consensus.

This is the nature of misunderstandings: They are duplicitous, confrontational in nature, and perplexing by design. They are also essential. Sometimes we need a misunderstanding to shed light on a character flaw, or to push us to fix something we have been avoiding in our relationships. Misunderstandings are an unavoidable fact of life. We all have gone through them, and as long as we live, we will all continue to go through them. I hope however, that after reading this, someone out there will learn to not allow a good misunderstanding to go to waste. On the other side of that disagreement if we are willing to engage in it, is clarity and better communication. To combat a misunderstanding, it requires us to be willing to do so, personal resolve, and an abdication of reasonless emotion. Once we begin to consciously choose to engage with misunderstandings, we will be able to improve at understanding misunderstandings, not fall victim to our feelings, and become more resolute about living out our convictions.   

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