Communication can be confusing. We have all heard how important it is that when we communicate, we communicate clearly. Dave Ramsey says, "To be unclear is to be unkind". That is so very true. How many times have I spouted off some information or instruction to my kids in a hurry? I may be multi-tasking, running out the door, or just plain distracted. Thinking I've made myself clear and that we understand each other, only to find out we are not. Effective communication is not mere words, but understanding the intent of the person speaking.
Never was that so blatantly clear to me than when I asked my son Alex to help me with some chores. We had Mexican Primroses growing in front of our porch. They are fantastic flowers to grow in the desert because they are tough and drought-resistant. The only
problem was sometimes, in the middle of summer, they would attract Hornworms, similar to the tomato hornworms that devour tomato plants if you aren't careful.
Well, this particular summer, our beautiful Mexican Primrose plants had been infested with Hornworms. Those creepy little critters ate so much of the plants that the only nubs and sprigs were remaining. I thought it would be good to cut them off, so they would grow back in full and healthy.
I asked Alex, who was 10 or 11 years old at the time, to get my garden clippers and cut off the dead stuff where the tomato worms had eaten. I said this in passing, as I pointed to the spindly Mexican Primrose plants. He said that he would, and I went on with a packed full to-do list.
Now, you may already see the problem, but I thought I had everything under control. Later in the day, as I walked up to the front door, I glanced down at the area in front of the house. The planter looked precisely as it had earlier in the day. I promptly called out to Alex and asked him, "why didn't you do what I asked you to do earlier?" Alex looked at me with a confused expression on his face and said, "I did," and then he said something about tomatoes and plants and cutting. Everything blurred for a minute, and suddenly I knew what happened. I groaned in a panic as I ran toward my vegetable garden.
Yep, where once stood several three-foot-tall, beautiful, lush pampered tomato plants, only stubs remained. Sad, puny stubs. Those tomato plants were the pride and joy of my garden. The tomatoes harvested there would provide lots of yummy salsa that we all looked forward to in the summer.
When I said "to get my garden clippers and cut off the dead stuff where the tomato worms had eaten," Alex heard two words. Garden and tomatoes.
Needless to say, I was so so sad. At first, I showed my displeasure and frustration to Alex. But, when I looked at that sweet boy's fallen face, I realized my mistake. I assumed he understood what I was talking about. I assumed I had been clear. Well, you know what they say about assuming:)
He was upset and profusely apologized for killing my tomato plants. In turn, I had to apologize to him and reassure him that he was way more important to me than tomato plants.
I learned a valuable lesson about communication that day. Before I speak or give instruction as a parent, grandparent, friend, boss, or co-worker, I can ask myself some important questions:
Have I completed the thought in my head before it comes out of my mouth?
If in-person, have I paused to look at the person in the eye?
Am I distracted, frustrated, or even tired?
Is it the best time to communicate the particular idea?
Are the words/instructions necessary or constructive?
When I'm in the garden, I often think of that day, especially when I look at my tomato plants. I'm glad we can laugh now about the year Alex killed my garden, and mom almost had a breakdown. It causes me to remember to be clear in my communication because yes, boys are way more important than tomatoes.