It’s odd right? How your brain, when given a visual it can’t put together, will turn it into the closest thing you can recognize. For instance, how many times have you thought you saw, out of the corner of your eye, another person standing in the doorway or hallway only to turn and realize it was actually a stack of boxes or something? Your brain doesn’t have much practice focusing attention from the peripheral of your vision, however it’s job is to take things from your perception, piece them all together and express it in a way that makes sense. If it doesn’t understand the input, it will take it’s best guess and slap a label on it for you. This is your perception. It’s easy to “see” when your perception has fooled you when the input is visual. Communication creates similar perception, draws undeniable parallels, but for most of us is near impossible to indentify.
When two people engage each other verbally, they exchange 2 sets of waves: sound waves (created by speaking literal words) and electromagnetic energy waves (created by the heart and pushed outward into our biofield). Only recently have these waves been scientifically identified and measured, however we named them a long, long time ago: emotions. And humans have a lot of different emotions available to us.
Similar to the way our brains make sense and decode visual input, it decodes communicative input as well. When we communicate, we take in all senses—seen and unseen—and cobble them together to fully understand the meaning of what is being presented to us. This allows us to decode things like sarcasm (opposing language/opposing emotion), jokes (language/playful emotion), honesty (language/supporting emotion) or trickery (language/opposing emotion).
Just like the “tricks” our brains play on us when registering an unrecognizable cluster of images, when receiving a combination of waves our brains are not familiar with, it will attempt to “fix” the mismatch by interpreting the pair as the closest pair that it is familiar with. It creates a proverbial Man In The Doorway. The most extreme example of this would be what psychology calls projection: the act of assigning or interpreting your own behaviors to someone else’s actions, intent or patterns.
At lesser extremes, this associative trickery-of-the-mind plays out on a daily basis. Botched greetings on the street, frustrating interactions with co-workers, soured encounters with our children or spouses… any situation where one or both people don’t seem to understand each other. It could be our current frame of mind coloring how the interaction is read or it could be long-term problematic interactions having us at wit’s end with no solution in sight. All because our brains are trying to make sense of input it isn’t familiar with, thus can’t interpret accurately.
To you, dear reader, this may sound far-reaching. Then again, you may be nodding emphatically because it makes perfect sense. Either way I’ll leave you with a challenge: next time you don’t understand someone’s point of view, are suspicious of someone’s honesty, hear hostility in words delivered without hostile body language or are disillusioned by someone holding fast—despite hefty opposition—to a belief contrary to yours, think of The Man In The Doorway. It could be that you don’t understand the other person’s communication because they have an emotional attachment to the words being spoken that you haven’t personally experienced yet. It could be that your brain just doesn’t know how to interpret the data it’s receiving. It could be that they are telling the truth, and you are are well. The hard part is putting your interpretations aside and accepting input you aren’t familiar with as-is. Sometimes we can’t relate to other’s experiences. Sometimes we just need to accept them as their experience.