To misunderstand and to be misunderstood are two sticky roadblocks to stumble upon. And as the age old saying goes – ‘A stitch in time saves nine’,  small misunderstandings resolved early and duly prevent major conflicts. No one can claim to be immune from misunderstandings, no matter how well you manage the relationships around you.

A beautiful relationship does not merely depend on how well we understand someone; but, it also depends on how well we avoid/handle misunderstandings.

Let me share a misunderstanding of which I was a victim just a month back.

It was World Mental Health Day (October 10). The theme for this year was – Mental Health at the Workplace. As a Counsellor and Psychology teacher, I had trained some of the senior students to make the day special for all the teaching and non-teaching staff at school. One of their tasks was to meet each staff personally, greet him/her and pin a badge onto them. The badges were beautifully designed and had lines of encouragement and appreciation printed on them. It was a big task for the students and took them a whole day to cover all the staff. Meanwhile, they were being appreciated for their gesture. So far so good.

Almost towards the end, they went to the Music Department. There they pinned the badge onto one teacher and left out the other teacher thinking that they had already given her in the morning as they had seen her in the corridor. That was an open invitation for disaster!! Though I had not accompanied the students all through the school, I was standing outside the Music Department just at that time!

The teacher who was left out, felt humiliated and burst out accusing me of being partial. She wouldn’t understand when I tried explaining that there was absolutely no question of any partiality at all, but just a mistaken assumption on the part of the students. It was quite a scene! She refused to accept a badge which I personally offered her. I felt very bad as the intention was to make the staff feel good and special, but it made somebody upset instead. Also, I felt her reaction to be a bit childish as she is a very senior faculty and has always been a motherly figure towards many.

I went back to her after ten minutes and found her in tears narrating the whole episode to another staff. I gave her a hug and apologised for the whole incident, all the while reiterating that it was just a mistaken assumption of the students and no further meaning ought be attached to it. What she told me in response, made me see sense to her reaction. She said that her husband has been struggling with depression for years now. As a result she and her children have had a very tough life (I didn’t know this at all as she is always jolly and offers a word of encouragement to all around). On knowing that a day has been designated to recognize mental health, she felt very happy and was eagerly waiting all through the day for the students to come up to her with the token. So on being ignored and that too in the presence of another staff who was being given the badge, she felt shattered within.

Though it helped put the pieces together, I felt really bad to know the reason behind her reaction. I, once again apologized gave her a hug and offered a badge. This time she accepted it and said that she held nothing against me….it was just an outburst of long suppressed emotions. And she has been normal with me, as before from that time onwards.

I don’t get into misunderstandings often. But, do bump into some such episodes at times. No amount of caution can ever guarantee anybody that misunderstandings will never happen.

So then, what causes misunderstandings?

  1. Expectations and lack of fulfillment of them
  2. Prejudices and stereotypes
  3. Lack of complete understanding on an issue
  4. Rigidity and lack of flexibility to yield
  5. Self-centered (I, me, my) attitude
  6. Emotional baggage
  7. Denial of a root cause
  8. Displacement of response from one person/situation to another
  9. Being influenced by others
  10. Impulsive and thoughtless reactions

The above list is not exhaustive and I’m sure if we think carefully about each of these points, we will find enough incidents of our own to relate to.

Is there a way out?

Well, as I have mentioned before, no one can claim immunity from misunderstandings. Even if you are the most self-controlled, tolerant and peaceable person around, someone or the other, some incident or the other is bound to provoke you sooner or later.

One of the best way out is negotiation according to the merit of the case. Forgiving and seeking forgiveness helps iron out differences. There are enough instances where people not agreeing on major issues have continued to live peacably with each other. So, its not altogether undoable. But yes, settling misunderstandings requires the cooperation of both the parties involved. In the absence of cooperation from either of the parties, misunderstandings tend to persist and even blow out of proportion thus causing great damages.

Resolve to be understanding. Take care to negotiate. Don’t hold things against others for long. Above all, pray for the difficult people in your life. Its only God who can transform the hearts of men!