I like the show Criminal Minds. It’s a drama about FBI profilers. One particular episode dealt with the abduction of a six year old boy. The mother told the FBI agents that she did not want to know what happened to the previous boys that had been abducted, she simply wanted to know how they were going to get her son back.
The dialogue between the agents and the parents went like this:
Agent: Was it normal for your son to walk to a friend’s house by himself?
Wife: What are you saying?
Agent: It’s just a question.
Wife: [speaking very defensively] No it’s not. Do you think we had something to do with this?
Agent: [maintaining his calm, detached demeanor] No I don’t. If this was his routine, someone could have been watching him for some time now.
Husband: He had only done it a couple times …..
In times of crises, even the most well-meaning and innocent questions can be misconstrued and sound accusatory to the other person. They may get defensive, stubborn and irritated while reading voice tones and underlying meanings into what they heard. Their emotional brain, the amygdala, would take over and, unless checked, could spiral out of control. You, on the other hand, have no idea what is going through their mind and cannot understand their reaction.
What do you say that you believe is innocent, yet is interpreted incorrectly by the other person? Are you explaining the rationale behind your questions or statements, or do you expect the other person to blindly follow your thinking?
It’s not what you said, it’s what they think they heard.