5 Tips to Repair the Damage From a Misunderstanding

“The biggest problem for humanity, not only on a global level, but even for individuals, is misunderstanding.” ~Rinpoche

There will always be misunderstandings in life. That's a given.

The question is, how much damage will they do? How will misunderstandings affect our fulfillment? Our overall happiness?

And I'm not talking about the “Three's Company” style of misunderstandings, which result from mistaken identity or eavesdropping. Those eventually get resolved with a cheesy group-hug, until the next episode, anyway.

No, I'm referring to the more insidious kind of misunderstandings.

Chances are, you've experienced serious misunderstandings that were initially ignored or swept under the rug to fester for a while. Then they popped up later, rearing their ugly heads and negatively impacting cooperation, communication, and teamwork.

While I've had a few of these experiences, this post by social entrepreneur Dan Pallotta paints a very vivid picture of how he suffered through a big misunderstanding.

I love this statement near his conclusion:

“Combine the perils of communication technology with our predisposition not to want to talk about the stuff that's in the middle of the room, and you have a perfect storm of anti-communication. It is the source of all misunderstanding. And misunderstanding is the source of 99% of our problems.”

Misunderstandings Lead To “Issues”

My personal experience with misunderstandings has mostly involved presumptions I've made. I've found that when I base my opinions solely on what I'm observing today—without pausing to consider history, background, or their perspectives—I'm more prone to get things wrong.

And that often creates an issue, an issue that's really a “misunderstanding” that I haven't yet discovered.

A former client of mine was replacing his lovely leather couch and offered it to me; I just needed to pick it up ASAP, while he was out of town. I accepted, thankfully, and excitedly told my husband. Problem was, he didn't want the couch. Turns out, it was gorgeous, but not very comfortable.

But since I'd committed to removing it from my client's space, and wasn't going to interrupt his vacation to say that it would still be there upon his return, I offered the couch to a friend in need. She accepted, gratefully. We delivered the couch to her, and she sent a gift to my client as a thank you.

He was not pleased. But he didn't tell me he wasn't pleased. Instead, he showed it—much later, and at a very inopportune time.

After mustering up the courage to talk to him about it, I learned that he has difficulty parting with items. And that he usually only does so once he's confident his possession is “going to a good home.” He had put that rare trust in me, and he felt that I violated it.

While I had perceived that the important thing was to get the couch out of his space quickly, it became crystal clear that I had misunderstood his intentions. And I could see his point.

He was surprised to discover that I had given the couch away in an effort to help him, not to take advantage of his kind gesture. Once we had that straight, I assured him his couch did go to a good home, which helped. Slightly.

Get Courageous. And Approach Them.

So the next time you've geared up to tackle an issue with someone, consider that it could just be a simple misunderstanding. And that it could be on you.

Here's what I remind myself before approaching someone about “the stuff that's in the middle of the room.”

1. The Goal = Harmony + Productive Communication

I'm not looking to “win” or be proven right. It's more important that I gain a new understanding; that I express that I'm seeking the harmony that once existed, and get back to productive communication.

2. I'm Missing Something

Time and again, when I've had a misunderstanding with someone, it's based in the fact that their perspective is different than mine. So I've learned to look hard to discover, and then consider, their perspective—which I do via the next steps.

3. Value Their Strengths and Motivations

What does this person bring to the table? How do they contribute to the world? What are they responsible for and how does that affect their perspective? I remind myself of their talents, skills, and value to help me focus on them instead of me.

4. Determine How They Judge Others

When seeking their perspective, I look at how they judge others in hopes of understanding them better. Some people make judgments based on a person’s people skills. Or their problem-solving talents. Or how well a person can persuade and influence others. How they judge is a key to how they see the world.

5. Consider Their Fears

We all have fears, even if we don’t consciously realize what they are. Some folks fear not getting work done on time. Others fear criticism. Or they are afraid they’ll be taken advantage of. Considering their fears can provide insight into the misunderstanding.

So the next time you have to tackle an issue with someone and talk about “that stuff in the middle of the room,” first ask yourself if it could be based in a simple misunderstanding.

And when you're gearing up to chat about it, consider gaining the other person's perspective before you dive in.

Once you do, you could suddenly be enlightened, realize the misunderstanding, and be able to move forward together harmoniously.

Photo by Okinawa Steve

About Michelle Agner

Michelle Agner is a career blogger who has had a meandering path through a variety of jobs good and bad.  Today, she’s taking this learning and launching a blog called Careertopia, where she helps people find, grow, and excel in a career they actually like.

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  • vivek

    Nice article,I must say.

  • Kay

    I really want to clear a misunderstanding with someone I care about a lot but she’s not talking to me now. Should I wait or simply ask her for a discussion?

  • Still-Learning

    If you really care & want to fix this relationship, you’ll find a nice way to talk about the matter.
    I find it’s very important that one is able to say “Apologise” & mean it. It helps enourmously much!

  • Shah Siddharth

    I’ve had misunderstanding just a week ago with my teacher, she’s like or rather say a mother to me. Sometimes she bursts out of anger, and me not being able to react on her, end up discussing with other student. Though I never do curse her or say bad about her, this time that student stabbed me and well added some spices to the matter or rather told the half truth. I’ve had misunderstanding with her in the past too, though it was her who made the attempt to make it nice….but it took half a year. I’m going to change my country I can’t afford be be on these terms to the person whom I care about more than anyone else. What I ask is that I’ve done mistakes and some serious ones as sharing with otehr person, but I’m not that bad to be ousted for a lifetime as she says, it takes time but its what i’ve not on my hands this while around, what to do?

  • Shana Pinkney

    I had a misunderstanding with my husband. We decided to sell these dinners. I have been cooking great meals and seeking the from time to time. I use fresh herbs, veggies,and spices to season the food. I have always had rave reviews. i even want to someday have my own restaurant. So he was to fry fish. I was to make homemade sauce from scratch for the spaghetti. Something I made plenty of times. Well as I was cooking it. O asked him to cut a few more cloves of garlic. He cut a few but I needed some for the meat and for the sauce. That’s when I was asked. It’s not going to be too garlicky is it? How much Parsley is going to have in it. I hope you wanted your hands before you started. What’s this Thyme what’s that . And as well as the You. Know we aren’t making this for family and friends so it has to be right ?Are u sure you know how to make this? Because if you don’t really want to do it I could do it and make it right
    So all in my feelings I rant I rave about this. He said he was just asking his questions and he didn’t mean any harm which knowing him I know he didn’t. I wanted to help so bad that Igot offended about what was I interpreted in the wrong context hr said he was asking from a idk perspective and I was taking it as he was saying I wasn’t good enough that it was going to taste bad all the food I made before was not that good

    I said some mean things and I’m beating myself up how do I fix this

  • Kumar Pravat

    I had a misunderstanding with my gf ,she didnt talk with me ,she said she had no feelings now .what can i do?

  • It sounds here that you thought your friend meant something to which you took exception. If you mow believe that your friend may have meant something different, but you misunderstood him, then you can say

  • Roarrrr

    Well what I would like to know when is it just a misunderstanding and when is it just unacceptable behavior. It’s a really thin line to me. When is it just people with the intention of taking advantage of the situation, and how do you turn it around.

    There is a difference in intentionally causing and issue and opps that is not what I intended. When someone has there way of judging your actions, whether is due to their core belief of how things should be. How do you communicate you decisions without seeming to put down theirs. Since it’s really about this is what works for me it’s not wrong that you see it this way but this is the direction I am going.

    I notice people have deep seeded beliefs about how men and women should act, or what a girlfriend or boyfriend, or husband and wife should act in a relationship. That there are roles we all should play a certain way. I end up reassuring yet when someone isn’t open you end up moving on.

  • Dianna Bell

    I said a stupid insensitive comment to my husband’s cousin,who I held in very high regard, over the phone….. she very quickly thereafter hung up on me. The minute I said it, I knew it was bad. I hoped it was overlooked and disappeared into thin air.

    It did not.

    8 hours later, she e-mailed me concerning the comment, word for word, in quotes…. and said not to ever call her again.

    I replied right away to the e-mail. …. telling her how sorry I was, how it was not what I meant to say…. begging her forgiveness.

    That was exactly 31 days ago. She won’t respond. I was literally sick to my stomach for 3 weeks over it. Devastated that I lost her ‘friendship’ over it.

    I’ve now come to realize, if she really really cared for me, she would have tried to help restore things with me. I feel she’s been looking for a long time for ‘something’ or some reason to end things with me. And i handed it to her on silver platter.

    It has shown me not to ever ever ever put ANYone on such a high pedestal. Cuz people always let you down.

    I am sooooooo disappointed in her. I so wish she would have ‘called me on it’ right when I said it, so I could have explained right then and there what I truly meant…… instead of her stewing it on for hours.

    Now, that relationship is forever gone. ::::sigh::::