“You’re Not Understanding Me” vs. “I’m Not Expressing Myself Clearly”

This past week I was in a meeting with a number of attendees and multiple moving parts.

At one point there was an exchange between two participants that caught my attention. Here’s how it went:

Person 1 asked a question.

Person 2 answered.

Upon hearing the answer Person 1 stated, “You’re not understanding me.”

Person 2 said, “I am understanding you.”

Person 1, “No, you’re not.”

Person 2 “Yes, I am. I understood you perfectly.”

As you can imagine, at this point the question got lost in the who-was-right battle.


Should you find yourself in a similar situation, what do I recommend instead of, “You’re not understanding me”?

I would try, “I’m not expressing myself clearly.”

Why does this work? It works because it takes the onus for the unsatisfactory answer on you, rather than putting the person answering the question on the defensive.

Does responding in this way come naturally to any of us?

It does not.**

But if your goal is to achieve greater clarity in your communication—as opposed to achieving satisfaction about how right you are—you will get further, faster if you can take a deep breath and clean up your “ask” rather than attacking the response you received.

** Please note that I LOVE being right, so I understand how hard this is. In fact, I once had a colleague ask me, “What do you need to let everyone know how right you are– a parade?” which actually did get me daydreaming about a ‘rightness-of-me’ parade….

For more on phrases can turn difficult situations around, take a look at, “Let Me Know What I Can Do” vs. “How Can I Help?”