“What did you mean by that?” Bob’s question took Susan totally by surprise because he had never asked her that before. But his tone was so respectful, with a genuine “I- really- want- to know” attitude that she quickly recovered and they began to discuss an earlier conversation. As they talked, both realized he had misunderstood her meaning and intention.
It was a good thing he asked the question.
After a few minutes’ discussion, the confusion was resolved. They both exclaimed, almost at the same time: “Hey! This is way different from what we’ve done before! ”
That prompted Susan to inquire, “How did you think to ask me that, Bob? It was so helpful.”
“I decided I’d do things in a healthy way, too” he answered, referring to her new-found skills discovered through counseling. They discussed what they previously did when there was such miscommunication between them. They’d either fight, or go to their respective “corners” and not talk at all for days, both reeling from hurt feelings and misperceived motives.
This interaction between them inspired Bob to try that phrase at work as well. It wasn’t long before he had an opportunity to ask a co-worker, “What did you mean by that?” They found a solution by first discussing the issue with his co-worker, then the supervisor.
Once again, a potentially ugly or explosive situation was resolved. Bob just shook his head as he reflected on how things often happened at work. Guys wound up leaving their jobs or remaining miserably unhappy and feeling trapped, all for the lack of using six words. “What did you mean by that?”
I recently heard a respected speaker utter this well-known phrase: [bctt tweet=" “I wouldn’t be divorced today had I known then what I know now.” " username="@BarbERuss"]
One of the things he said is that he, like Bob, needed to let his wife know when he was unhappy. In that first marriage it seemed other things he tried never worked. So, one day in hopeless despair, he left. He had come to a lot of conclusions about the futility of things changing and didn’t know at that time how to even bring up the subject.
All too often, guys feel they must just “suck it up” when they are displeased with what’s going on, whether at home or at work. They’re fearful of the confrontation that will likely follow. And just as often, wives or bosses don’t make it safe to say anything when they look for what’s wrong and criticize more than they compliment.
We have a long history in the West of the strong, silent man. For many years, guys have absorbed this mantra: “Real men don’t eat quiche, they don’t ask for directions, and they certainly don’t ask for help!”