Healthy Communication: “Take a Hint” (What Can One Safely Assume?)
- When one is forced to use the imagination to fill in gaps after honest effort to seek clarification, is it safe to assume the confusion was somehow intentional?
- When questions are appreciated, is it safe to assume clarification is sought in an effort to deepen a relationship?
- When questions are regarded as ammunition and attacks, is it safe to assume those who regard them as such are frightened, lack trust, and/or wish to avoid closeness? Can one assume another prefers to avoid responsibility related to the situation at hand?
When a question is put forth, each person has decisions to make based upon the relationship. Without a shared history between two people, there exists no personal experience to draw upon. Even if ‘reputation’ precedes one or both, motives rise quickly to the surface by the ways in which clarification is handled.
Essentially, people who are able to be trusted find it easy to trust others; people who don’t trust others are defensive, often deliberately mislead others and basically hide from themselves by pointing fingers at those around them.
Trust vs. Mistrust: The Trap
When the predisposition (trust vs. mistrust) of each person is evenly matched, communication is usually mutually satisfactory. Two people who are able to trust and be trusted often discover they can build a potentially strong, fulfilling relationship. Two who are equally suspicious are often relieved that the other is well guarded, as this releases each of the responsibility to watch out for/ be sensitive to the feelings of the other.
Difficulties arise when the two people make opposite assumptions; that is, when a trusting person invests heartfelt energy into a discussion with one who (unbeknownst to the trusting person) does not trust or when a well-guarded person begins a conversation, expecting no responsibility, only to be hit with a clarification-seeking, over sharing disaster. On both sides, boundaries are not mutually respected. One feels slighted; the other feels invaded. Neither feels safe.
Trust vs. mistrust becomes the focus. This communication issue is magnified during the holiday season when friends and family members define their relationships in accordance with rules dictated by social obligation. ‘Social obligation’ breeds misery for all involved.
Sincerity vs. Social Obligation
When two people sincerely wish to spend time together, their mutual desire is demonstrated by reaching out, prompt responses, promises kept, and seeking as well as offering clarification to underscore heartfelt interest. Problems arise when either or both believe they ‘should’ meet, based upon social obligation. When people actually want to spend time with each other, the question of trust vs. guarded does not have to surface. Mutual heartfelt desire trumps all.
Success vs. Set Up To Fail
Every family and group of friends has at least one person who
- May or may not show up at the last minute
- Offers vague answers, even when specifically asked clear questions
- Can’t be pinned down for a commitment and, if one is actually made, may or may not be kept
- Always seems to have an excuse
- Often states that those who seek clarification are ‘nagging’ or ‘insatiable’
- Expresses s/he feels burdened by attempts on the part of others to secure a date, time or place to meet
- Forces others to make assumptions – a dangerous practice for all involved
This individual earns the reputation of ‘untrustworthy’ especially when s/he reserves the right to fault others for any assumptions made. These slippery people offer answers that include, “I’ll make every effort to attend” then, when later asked directly what the plan is, negatively label those who seek a clear answer as they easily pin the ‘lack of meeting’ on anyone else involved.
Be Honest – Avoid ‘Traps’ Especially During the Holiday Season
- When we extend honest, heartfelt invitations to people with whom we share a mutual feeling of safety – mind, body and spirit, acceptance of that invitation channels positive energy, excitement and joy filled hearts.
- When we extend ‘social obligation’ invitations to people, they often feel it. Nobody looks forward to the gathering and all attempt to set boundaries to preserve personal safety.
- When invited by people we really do not feel safe with, as stated above, they generally don’t feel safe with us, either. Our acceptance must include healthy boundary setting in a positive way. Tips: Limit time shared and communicate in advance regarding topics we prefer to not address (i.e. avoiding discussions that flame heat including but not limited to those surrounding sex, religion and politics)
Read the Signals
When inviting guests, watch for these responses so that you can minimize discomfort for all involved:
- “I’ll have to see. I’ll let you know.” This suggests your invitation is either not a priority or the person has little or no intention of accepting, but can’t find the way to say “No” because of a feeling of social obligation.Your response: If you have thick skin and are very generous of spirit, you may leave the ball in the guest’s court, permitting him/her to later claim “Oh I forgot” or “I tried to reach you but . . .” This guest does not feel safe, for whatever reason, in your presence, so why add pressure? (If the relationship is valuable to you, wait until after the holiday season to pursue, in a neutral location, to see if you can reestablish mutual trust. If not, let it go and move on accepting you are each on separate paths along equally sacred journeys).
- “My spouse/partner etc. . . . has another obligation. I wish we could accept your invitation but we can’t.” (This response may go either way. It is either a total fabrication – permitting the guest an ‘easy out’ or it is a truthful statement. If it is a fabrication, the guest either fears hurting your feelings, does not trust you enough to tell the truth and/or does not feel safe with you, but feels a degree of social obligation. If it is, in fact, true, then the person will follow-up by reaching out after the holiday to see how the event went. S/he might offer a heartfelt apology and engage in an honest exploration and sharing of thoughts and feelings regarding the holiday, and other items of mutual interest. (Lack of a follow-up call after declining an invitation usually indicates the person is uncomfortable with and/or has no interest in you).
Bottom Line To The Host and Hostess
Knowing how you feel, deeply and honestly, about each guest on your list is an important beginning to a healthy and happy holiday experience. If you have ‘social obligation’ invitations to extend, recognize that those people likely also feel ‘socially obligated’ to accept. Permit them the space, time and distance they require to accept or reject and, if you don’t really want to pursue a deeper relationship with them, just accept their answers, boundaries and excuses without further question.
Bottom Line To the Receiver of Invitations
Knowing how you honestly feel about the host, hostess and/or others on the guest list enhances your positive holiday experience. Accepting invitations to be with those we love is easy. Invitations from people we don’t really know or care about, realizing they feel the same way about us is also met with gracious ease, most of the time.
Difficulties may arise when social obligation further blurs a relationship that is already out of balance – especially when neither person (or only one person) is aware.
If, however, you receive an invitation and believe it is heartfelt, but you prefer not to put time, effort or energy into accepting, and you are not a slave to social obligation, then you might find it natural to decline respectfully offering a sincere plan to get together at a later date (if you so desire). Be prepared to share your reasons for declining the invitation (if you wish to have a deeper than ‘just acquaintance’ relationship).
Thanks for reading this post. I’d love to know if you relate to this and how you assess these points. Are they accurate for you? All comments are welcome. I wish you a healthy, happy, successful holiday season and a wonderful holiday season filled with blessings, healing, rekindling and reawakening.