I Didn't Mean That!
by Susie E. Caron (7-17-2013)
I remember standing in line, outside my highschool choir room door. I chatted with two classmates while we awaited the signal to walk into class. I don't remember the topic, but I said something. One of the girls, (I'll name her Terry) snapped back at me. This startled me, because as far as I knew, I hadn't said anything that should upset her. Immediately the other teen (I'll call her Lucy) spoke to Terry and said, "That's not what she meant." Terry visibly calmed down and any further discussion stopped abruptly as we were ushered into the room.
To this day, I don't remember what I said that "I didn't mean." Obviously Lucy knew something about communication that I missed. "How did she KNOW," that I had actually intended something other than what Terry heard?
Training and experience taught me that language comes in many forms. I'm not talking about different dialects or 'languages' per se. I'm referring to the multi-layered communications in which we humans engage. (And likely some animals...but that is not my point here). Obviously communication involves much more that the actual words spoken.
For example: Think about the many ways a parent can speak a child's name. "Charlie", for example is just a name. However, spoken in a variety of ways, it can mean "I'm feeling gentle and nurturing toward you." Or "Get your muddy shoes off my new couch!" Or perhaps, "Now you are being very silly." (Try it!) One more example may help: Think about the term "Sweet Heart." Do I really need to spell out the ways THAT can be spoken?
What I just illustrated helps us to recognize at least one added layer to meaning-making in 'spoken' language. This is called the 'Meta Message.' Our words convey only a small portion of our meaning. Our tone, inflection and pitch carry meta messages behind the words. We all use meta messages, but often we shouldn't.
When we use words that contradict our underlying "meanings" (the Meta-Messages), we are not being authentic. When our words and non-verbal intentions match, we are true to ourselves and clear with others. Improved communication enhances our relationships.
When you speak, think about the meaning behind your words, especially those you speak to your children. I encourage you to attach warm, nurturing, 'I believe in you' messages when you speak their names. When you want to correct a behavior, just speak clearly the behavior you DO want. "Muddy Feet Belong Outdoors Now!" Or maybe "Get those muddy shoe off my new couch!"
Underlying "meta messages" in agreement with spoken words enhances your authenticity and personal power. Remember to "Say what you mean and mean what you say," to enhance your communication and relationships.
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!