Communication and Miscommunication

Communication and Miscommunication,

Understanding and Misunderstanding!


By Dianne D. McDonnell


A minister was at the Grand Canyon admiring the beauty of all the scenery when he slipped off the cliff.  He grabbed a tree on the way down, and managed to pull himself back up to peak over the top of the cliff.  Two grizzly bears were waiting for him!  He said a quick prayer, “Father, please make these bears be Christian bears!”  Gradually he climbed up within a few feet of the bears.  Both bowed their heads, put their paws together and said, “God, we thank you for the meal we are about to receive.”


I guess the moral of the story is that sometime even Christians devour other Christians!


Here is a little test for you.  Read carefully.

You are working in an office building.  Two co-workers have already left their desks to go home.  A friend bursts into the office and yells, “Jim hit Mary!  Mary is bleeding!” You must leave immediately to go to a doctor’s appointment so you cannot stay for the rest of the story. Based on this information, what would you later tell your friend or spouse when you relate the incident?

1.      Jim is a violent man!

2.      Mary probably said something to provoke him!

3.      I don’t know enough about the situation to know what happened.


The next day you learn that Jim was accelerating as he drove out of the parking lot when the accelerator stuck and his car slammed into Mary’s car.  Mary hit her head on the steering wheel and her forehead started bleeding.  Jim jumped out of his damaged car, and found someone to take Mary to the hospital to get her head wound checked.  Everything you originally heard was true, but key DETAILS were missing so that you misunderstood the entire situation!


How you visualize a situation usually isn’t the way something happened.  As the story is repeated even more distortion is added.  DETAILS of the situation are either left out or incorrectly repeated, and MOTIVES are added, usually incorrectly.


Here is another situation for you, and this story is true.

Tony’s boss said that Tony lost his job because he wasn’t working.

Select 1, 2, or 3:

1.      Tony is lazy.

2.      Tony was probably not suited for his job.

3.      You don’t have enough information to judge the situation.


Here’s the true story: Tony, a minister who also holds down a full time job, worked overtime six days a week at his job as an accountant, but did not work on the Sabbath. He lost his job because his boss wanted him to work seven days a week!  Tony is obviously a man of faith that puts God first.  Later God provided a much better job at higher pay for Tony that allows him more time for his family and more time to care for his congregation. Now, with these details does anyone think Tony is lazy or not suited to his job?


Once again, the DETAILS and also the HEART/motives explain the situation.  Don’t pass judgment with partial information.  Usually, don’t judge at all!  Jesus said:

Luke 6:37 (New International Version)

37        "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.


What I have read you were all true statements but partial, not the whole story.  The full Details of each situation totally changed it from how you originally perceived it!  And knowing the Heart of the person changed how you originally perceived it.


If there is a story being spread always allow someone to defend themself!  There are always two sides—two perceptions—and many details that make all the difference.  Don’t judge! 


John 8:15-16 (Jesus is talking!)

15                You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. (NIV)


Jesus Christ said “I pass judgment on no one!”  If Jesus, the only perfect human being to ever live, said “I pass judgment on no one,” shouldn’t we be saying the same thing?  Let’s repeat that aloud so we can really remember it!


And when Jesus does have to judge he mades right judgment because he is not alone but has the insight of God to rely upon for right decisions!


16        But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.  (Jesus and God the Father can see into the heart and therefore judge rightly! We cannot see into the heart so we should say, “I pass judgment on no one.”)


Don’t ruin someone’s reputation on innuendoes—partial information—the way you have visualized something.


Proverbs 22:1

1          A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. NIV


If you have a grievance or hurt feelings against someone, go directly to them in private.  Don’t tell other people!  If you cannot resolve it together, perhaps the minister can try to help you both as in Philippians. 4:2 and 3, when two women disagreed and it was disrupting the church. 

Ephesians 4:31-32

31        Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

32        Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)


How do you “go to your brother” when he or she has hurt your feelings?

1.      If you are directly involved say:  “When you did/said (be specific about what was said) I felt (describe your emotions).  Your perceptions may not have been the intention of their heart!  Their motive might not have been what you thought!  Give the person a chance to explain their motivation and what they meant.

2.      If you are indirectly involved or if the story has affected how you feel about the person or will affect their reputation, then you should go directly to the person the incident involves and say to them:  “I have heard something but I don’t really understand it.  Could you help me?”


Don’t judge a brother or sister in Christ.  Jesus said, “I pass judgment on no one.”  Why should we?  Realize that you don’t have enough information to know and understand the full situation.  ADMIT that you DO NOT UNDERSTAND, You do not know enough to  JUDGE them or their situation.  Be gentle.  Be Kind.  Remember, the way that we

 imagined a situation is wrong 99% of the time. And even if we were directly involved we still do not truly understand the other person’s side of the situation.


Some time ago a friend called me and said, “I heard that some of the leaders of your church refused to come to services when visiting Pastor Joe Johnson (not his real name) came to preach a sermon.  I heard that you, your husband and a deacon weren’t there that day.  The guy that told me was so mad about it that he stopped attending.”


I was glad the friend called me to clarify the issue.  The offended person had not called either the deacon, my husband or myself to ask why we weren’t there.  If he had come to services the following week, he would have heard a report from a ministerial conference which the three of us attended that weekend.  If he had read the bulletin that day he would have known where we were.  What were the rest of the DETAILS?   Pastor Johnson could not come any other time as he was in town for a professional speaking engagement the next day.  We could not cancel our trip as it was a once a year event.  Our motive was to serve the church.  Joe Johnson’s motive was to serve the church.  Yet someone stopped attending.....made a major stop attending because of a misunderstood event.  It was true that we weren’t there, but the details and the motives were not understood.  He judged us and told others of his judgment; he decided what our motives were without any information from us.


AGAIN—Don’t pass judgement on a fellow Christian!  If you are upset about a matter, cool down, then call the person and first admit that you DON’T KNOW, and Don’t UNDERSTAND the person’s actions.  Remember to cool down before you contact the person in question.  Pray about it. But finally allow the person that you are upset with to explain it themselves!  Instead this man proceeded to tell several people that we had purposefully and rudely boycotted the visit of a guest pastor.  Was this a true testimony?

 One of the Ten Commandments states in Exodus 20:17 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”


Misunderstandings can merge into false witness!  False witness is a sin in God’s eyes! The person in question relays their perceptions but they are unknowingly presenting a false picture, a FALSE WITNESS! This is a sin!

Romans 14:10-13

10        You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.

11        It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'"

12        So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13        Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. (NIV)


Perception doesn’t always match intention.


How we have perceived a situation/statement isn’t always how the person meant it, or how the situation really was in the eyes of God.


A chart on the last page of this article goes over the WHAT, HOW, WHY in an easy to follow manner.


Another example:

Jenny hasn’t been to church in a month.  Others notice and say, “Jenny hasn’t been here this entire month! (The WHAT)  I guess she has lost interest in our church.  (Making up the HOW)  She just doesn’t have any commitment to the Christian way of life.  (Making up the WHY or the person’s heart.)


The full situation: Jenny fell and pulled two ligaments in her leg and was in pain and unable to walk.  She was forced to stay home alone all month, keeping the Sabbath by studying her Bible and praying by herself, even though she was in a lot of pain.  She was the only Christian in her household, so it was a much harder month for her than for the individual that judged her and said she didn’t have any “commitment”. 


The perception of the situation didn’t match the intention of Jenny’s heart!  The one judging her took the WHAT and fabricated the HOW and WHY!


Remember the minister and the Christian bears?  Do we chew each other up verbally?     

Galatians 5:15

15        If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.


REMEMBER--  JESUS said:  “I pass judgment on no one.” Can we be as kind?


Avoiding Misunderstandings


The three parts of a misunderstanding:

                      !                           ?                   ??

WHAT              HOW                 WHY


                       Action you See              The Missing Details        A Person’s Motivation


             Statement/words you Hear          Circumstances              A Person’s Reasons


            Person reporting something        Setting, what came         The Intent of the Heart

               He/she saw or heard             Before or After the




Usually we see or hear only What, and MAKE UP the How and the Why!


Dealing with Misunderstanding

1) When you are upset with someone directly and you want to resolve the misunderstanding, try this statement:


    “When you said/did (state the words or action) I felt (state the emotions that you felt).”

     For example: “When you didn’t like the meal I fixed I felt discouraged about cooking.” 


2) When you are upset about something that you have heard indirectly and feel it is important to resolve the issue:


     “I have heard something, but I don’t really understand the situation.  Could you help me with this?”


Perception doesn’t always match intention.

How we have perceived a situation/statement isn’t always how the person meant it, or how the situation really was.  God can accurately judge the intentions of our hearts, but we human beings often perceive intentions and motives incorrectly.


Jesus said:  “...I pass judgment on no one.”  John 8:15

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