Here’s what goes haywire in many relationships.

Person A, Sophie, is expressing or seeking to fulfill a need; love, comfort, freedom, support, appreciation, respect, x,y,z… For Sophie, the fulfillment of this need is defined a by certain parameters. It can feel, sound, or look a certain way, or it can be defined in words or gestures etc. For example, for Sophie, the need for freedom can be defined as the ability to express herself freely without walking on eggshells or the need for support expects to be met by way of motivating words etc. For simplicity’s sake, the way I usually express this in conversation is by saying that Sophie is looking for apples.

Person B, Jack, defines the fulfillment of these same needs differently.For example, for Jack, support comes by way of a warm embrace, or by being showcased to others; the need for freedom comes from being able to come and go as his pleases.   Jack is looking at these needs in terms of oranges.

Sophie turns to Jack for support and is looking for apples.  Jack, responds to her need by giving him his version of support, oranges. He gives her warm, loving embrace which is his version of support. Sophie, who is wanting a pep talk, feels misunderstood and disappointed because she didn’t get apples but yet Jack thinks he’s given her what she needed because he gave her support. He gave her his oranges and he doesn’t understand why Sophie feels misunderstood and disappointed.  If you’re confused by now, you can see how confusing this can get in the heat of the moment when emotions are at their peak. The problem is only magnified by the fact that most people are not aware of this, and even less of what their underlying needs are.  They just know they’re looking for apples and not getting them.

This same communication problem appears with your clients, your family, your partners, lovers, or the girl behind the register at the gas station. The best way that I know of dealing with this a taking a giant step back to gain perspective and ask myself what language (apples or oranges) this person is talking and using that information to move forward by adjusting how I communicate, or sometimes my expectations, for optimal results.  Easy in theory, extremely difficult to do in the heat of the moment. Always worth the effort to keep this mind and make an ongoing practice of it.

I am by far not an expert at this (yet), but I know that the communication gap exists and that makes me one step ahead in bridging it, at least going forward anyway.