Updated: Sep 17
Have you ever had a misunderstanding because you or someone else jumped to a conclusion that wasn't exaaaactly the complete picture of what happened?
On Episode 43, we talked about the age old problem of Misunderstanding. We would venture to bet this breaks up more relationships than anything else that comes between two people, and it pretty much stems from the fact that we are all lousy communicators. But, we're all about improvement over here!
So, we want to give you a practical tool that will help you not jump to conclusions about what someone else might be thinking or feeling and how to put language to your own thoughts and feelings. Basically, this will make you a champion communicator. Everyone will think you're amazing!
Our secret weapon is called the Emotions or Feelings Wheel. The Emotions Wheel is a tool that helps people describe and verbalize their emotions. It is circular (like a wheel) and contains 8 core feelings at the center, which psychologist Robert Plutchik distinguishes as anger, disgust, fear, sadness, anticipation, joy, surprise, and trust. As you move outward on the wheel from the center, there are more complex words listed for each core feeling that help you get specific about what's really going on.
Let me give you an example of how this marvelous tool works:
I am notorious in my family for the year I ruined Christmas. I will never live it down; it's basically local folklore at this point. Five months before Christmas on my 16th birthday, I received a brand new, shiny, top of the line... clarinet. One of my best friends got a Jeep. I got keys to what my parents hoped would be a scholarship.
Not to be deterred for long, however, I lobbied hard over the next few months, knowing Christmas was right around the corner. I dreamt of what it would be like to wake up Christmas morning to a black little Chevrolet Baretta (who remembers those?!) parked in the driveway, in direct contrast to my shiny black reeded instrument whose only keys were ones I had to press down to blow air through.
A few days before Christmas, a family friend who was a couple of grades behind me told me that my parents were hiding a car in her garage for me! When I asked her what it looked like, she said it was a cute little white two-door sports car. Oh, this was going to be gooood. It wasn't black but white stays cleaner longer. Good thinking, parents.
Now, hindsight tells me I am stupid because we had zero money for a sports car (or barely any car) and I was not about to work to help pay for one, but 16-year-old Stacey thought it was a gift my entire family had pitched in to give me because I was so loved and highly esteemed.
On Christmas morning, my family went through the normal rigamarole of gift opening, and I played it cool, waiting for that box with the golden keys to the kingdom to finally be revealed. When finally it was unearthed beneath the last dregs of presents, I tore it open, faked my absolute surprise, and ran out to greet my shiny winged, aero-dynamically, space engineered chariot that would be the envy of the high school parking lot. Move over, Jeep, there's a new kid in town!
Except that's not exactly how it went down.
What I found parked in the backyard was not what I had been told would be there, but instead was a1984 two-toned silver Chrysler LeBaron with plush velvet plum interior, much like a grandmother would drive, except not mine. She was much too cool. To mine and everyone else's horror, I blurted out, "Is this a joke?!" I'll save you the gory details, but suffice it to say, Christmas was over. It was 7:37 am.
Now, here's where Google, the Wheel of Emotions, and basic knowledge of healthy self-awareness and intercommunication skills would've come in sooo handy. But it was 1989 and that wasn't happening anywhere near our parts.
First, let's get this out of the way: Was I an ungrateful, bratty teenager? Well, yes, I'm sure I was.
But, if we take a look at our trusty Wheel, my reaction was based more out of Surprise (shock, actually!). We might then have been able to work farther out to understand that my surprise came because I was confused; and then continuing out even farther, we might have had the wherewithal to articulate that I was confused because I was disillusioned. Something I believed was true had turned out in a quick moment, with everyone's attention on me, to be less good than what I had believed it was going to be. Hence my reaction.
Then I would've been cleared, the family friend would have been massacred, and Christmas could have gone on in great celebration and let's all get back to Jesus. Everyone wins (except the other kid). Amen.
In addition, we might have also pinpointed that my family was feeling many of the same emotions (not just simply anger), displayed through different reactionary responses.
When there is misunderstanding, you can bet there has been a misperception of the circumstances and the way we perceived someone's reaction to them. Often, the misunderstandings continue because we don't have the words to express what we're really feeling and are not given the opportunity to figure out why we responded the way we did.
But, what a gift to others around us to give them the space and language to express themselves and clear up misunderstandings! Instead of getting angry with our friend for reacting one way and thinking we know why (in essence, jumping to conclusions), what if we took ourselves out of the offended position and asked something like, "I noticed when we were talking about x, you seemed to withdraw. Were you sad about something?" And then it might dawn on her, "Yes, actually I did feel a little sad!" If you can use the wheel to help her explore her feelings and put language to them, then she might be able to say that she was sad because in that moment she felt lonely, and she felt lonely because she was experiencing shame over something she had said. It actually had very little to do with you.
See how it works? Misunderstanding cleared up. Understanding gained. Connection made. Trust built.
So, next time you feel misunderstood or have a perception of someone else's reaction, consult the Wheel! You might find it saves you and your relationships from the great divide of Misunderstanding.
We hope this helps in your friendships and all your relationships!
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