Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: The Consequences of Miscommunication

Poor communication is the source of most problems in both personal and business relationships. Marriages end up in divorce because two people who started out loving one another fail to stay in touch with the changing needs of each other. Counselors hear this conversation all the time: "You never told me that's what you wanted". Reply: "Well, if you love me you would know". You will often fail to get what you need if you use silence rather than words. Lovers are not mind-readers. An on-going dialogue is essential in a healthy relationship in love and marriage.

Communication and understanding are essential to the health of any organization, including the church. Churches feud, lose their focus on the main purpose of their existence, and sometimes split over the smallest matters when there is no healthy dialogue and open discussion. Trivial differences can turn into hostile and explosive reactions as the result of no talking, or too much talking with too little listening. It can happen even in the best of churches.

Friendships are jepordized when small misunderstandings are not confronted and clarified early in a dispute. Then comes blame and shame and name-calling, and the friendship is gone.

Businesses fail when there is no clear communication between owners and employees, or between the business and its customers. Court dockets are crowded with lawsuits that arise over the absence of a clear understanding in a personal or business relationship.

Misunderstandings are avoided when we listen carefully to what someone is saying.

A man went to visit a new neighbor. There was a dog on the porch with the neighbor. The visitor asked: "Does your dog bite?" "No", said the new neighbor. The visitor reached down to pat the dog on the head and the dog bit him. Embarrassed and somewhat angry, the visitor said: "I thought you said your dog did not bite!" The new neighbor said: "This is not my dog".

In his memoir, Counsel to the President, Clark Clifford recalls teaching a class on contracts at a night law school when he was a young lawyer. One of the things he stressed was the importance of reaching a complete and full understanding, a ‘meeting of the minds', between two persons entering a contract. He pointed out that people often thought they had such an understanding until they were ready to execute the agreement, at which time they found out that each had a different notion of what the contract meant. To illustrate that point, he often told a story which he said he told to every President he served.. This is the story:

A man walking down the street noticed a sign in the window of a restaurant that said, SPECIAL TODAY - RABBIT STEW. He said to himself, "That's a favorite of mine", and went in to order the stew. After he had taken three or four bites, which did not taste quite right, he asked the waiter to call over the proprietor. "By any chance is there any horsemeat in the rabbit stew?" the customer asked. "Well, now that you ask, there is some", responded the owner. "What is the proportion?" asked the man. "Fifty-fifty", came the reply. Now, most people would have felt that no further questions were needed, that there was a clear understanding. But this man pursued the issue. "What do you mean by fifty-fifty?" he asked, and the proprietor replied, "One horse to one rabbit".

Listen carefully and read the small print before you sign on to any agreement or formalize any relationship. Be sure every person knows what each person means by what is said and agreed upon. It will save you lots of grief, and believe me, it is worth the effort.