Twenty-four years ago, my husband and I took on a problem we never saw coming.
Acidic well water. In a house without a water treatment system. How were we to know that the refreshing water in our new home came from a highly acidic aquifer?
We didn’t. So we enjoyed years and years of lovely well water until…
A pipe leaks.
Like a silent enemy, acidic water wore away our copper pipes – from the inside out. Pin-sized leaks began to appear every few months, and we had plumbers on speed dial. Until fortune smiled upon our home – and my husband’s friend taught the creative lawyer how to repair copper pipes without a soldering iron.
Whenever a new leak appeared, I called my husband, and began to triage with funnels, rubber tubes, and buckets until he arrived. Yet when he walked in the door, I honestly never felt the same assurance that Mr. Plumber’s presence had evoked.
You see, my husband conducted plumbing repairs while cursing like a sailor. And he didn’t mumble under this breath.
The F-Bomb is dropped?
So one day, I was home alone with a leak downstairs. The kids were in school, and my husband was in court. I stemmed the leak as best I could and patiently waited for my knight in shining armor to arrive.
He entered house, discarded coat and tie, and began to man handle the leak downstairs while I endeavored to read and not worry upstairs.
Soon, creative strings of profanity filled the house. I became really ticked off when one refrain was repeated over and over, rising in pitch with each repetition: “*uck-it! *uck-it! *uck-it!”
How many times had the f-bomb been dropped in my house? Too many to count. I had once augmented pocket change by charging $5 for every f-word uttered. Staggering totals made that project short-lived.
So I had learned to ignore the word so offensive to my genteel sensibilities. And ignoring it I was on that day in question. Sitting upstairs feeling high and mighty, waiting for my husband to finish growing up downstairs.
Until he raised his voice and distinctly called out, “Gina, I need a BUCKET!” I high tailed it down the stairs to see my husband soaked, and water spraying out furiously.
A principle of better communication is revealed.
I had made a wrong assumption. I heard “*uck-it! *uck-it! *uck-it!” when my husband was yelling “Bucket! Bucket! Bucket!” I had reacted in the present moment based purely on our past history.
Now that I think about it, that’s what many of us do with communication. We don’t really listen with curiousity to hear what our partners are saying. They speak and we start assuming. But often the speaker’s intention and the hearer’s understanding are as far apart in meaning as “*uck-it” is from “bucket”.
So how do we avoid this common comunication error? We have to check our assumptions, to see if our understanding is correct. We have to listen to our partners with greater curiousity and much less judgment.
If I could relive my plumbing scenario, I might have asked my husband, “How’s it going right now” and he could have said, “Not good! I need a bucket ASAP!” He , and our basement, would have gotten less wet.
Leaky pipes and the f-bomb-that-wasn’t reminded me to enage my husband with curiosity, and to check the accuracy of my assumptions and understanding. I find that it makes for better communication.
Now over to you: Do you think assumptions get in the way of effective communication? How do you check the accuracy of your understanding? Speak your mind below!