Don’t Take This the Wrong Way

I hate that phrase. Oh, how I hate that phrase. To caution someone to not interpret something “the wrong way” is to imply that there is a “right way” to think: the speaker’s way. The phrase assumes a position of entitlement that blames the listener for not understanding the speaker’s intention. But, that’s just it.

To be effective, communication needs to be performed such that all listeners understand the speaker’s message. It’s a two-way street. If someone’s not understanding what you’re saying the way you’re saying it, that’s failed communication. The burden is then on you to figure out how to get your point across, not on the listener to assume what you meant.

One of the most offensive things any intimate partner has said to me during arguments is, “You’re misunderstanding me.” Again, entitlement. I am making a judgment based on the information you have given me. I am not misunderstanding you; we are having a miscommunication because you haven’t provided me the information I need to understand how you reached your conclusion.

One of the best things you can do for any of your relationships — with friends, family, lovers, coworkers, etc. — is to learn how to argue such that you criticize ideas rather than people.

Leave all “you”s out of what you say and only talk about your own situational impressions. For example, “I become stressed when I see dirty dishes in the sink three days in a row,” is a better, non-aggressive way to assertively approach your messy roommate than, “I hate how you always leave your dirty dishes in the sink.” It is less likely to trigger your roommate’s defensiveness because you’re addressing your feelings about the situation without attacking their personhood or behavior habits.

An effective communication style is vital to the longevity of any meaningful relationship, and it’s a lot easier to get your point across when you can do it without alienating your audience. I encourage you to steer away from the “Don’t take this the wrong way”s, “don’t get me wrong”s, and “you’re misunderstanding me”s and, instead, spend more energy crafting how you say what you say to the important people in your life.

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10 comments

  1. Great piece. I find myself in complete agreement. “Don’t take this the wrong way” is a phrase I have rarely ever used. Being direct and clear, even if it invites embarrassment or enmity, is a talent with which I have been blessed by nature. Tergiversation is for the birds!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Heh, yeah. I always figured “Don’t take this the wrong way” was code for “Don’t get too pissed at me, please.” On some level, it’s a warning that a supposed friend is about to say something they know you won’t like.

    I do think it can be fair to say someone is misunderstanding you, so long as you go on to try to clarify the matter. “You’re misunderstanding,” doesn’t have to be accusatory, it can be factual. Misunderstandings do occur. Both parties should try to resolve them.

    Totally agree on the “I” terminology. I forget where I learned that, but I’ve carried around a long time, and it’s quite effective.

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    1. Yep, thanks for sharing, and I’m glad you can relate! I agree that “You’re misunderstanding” can be meant factually, but I receive it in an emotionally-unpleasant way, which defeats the purpose of my co-communicator attempting to diffuse an argument with it.

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  3. Along similar lines, one speech habit I hate is the unkind statement followed by “I’m just saying…” so the responsibility for any hurt is on YOU as the listener, since all the speaker did was “just say” something.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Do you know the book The No-A**hole Rule? It’s specifically about the workplace environment, but is relevant elsewhere too. It says people are all responsible for creating good relationships. They can’t throw a bomb into a conversation and then claim they were “just” expressing their opinion.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I’ll have to look for that book! I read an article a while back about how women use the word “just” too much in the workplace because it’s a passive way of apologizing in advance for what you’re about to say. For instance, “just letting you know I need that report soon” or “just an FYI here’s some important information I have for you” etc. I made a deliberate effort to stop saying just for a month and within a month I was invited to join the management meetings. Could be a coincidence (I took on additional responsibilities at the same time) but I feel much more confident.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Yes!!! I’ve noticed that, too, not just (har har) in the workplace, but virtually everywhere! I’m not at all surprised, either, because we’re taught since birth to sugarcoat our speech, lest we risk offending someone.

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