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Whatcha Wanna do for Dinner?

Communication is a transactional process that you can use to your advantage. Here’s how.

Communication is like any other transactions in your life. Whether it occurs in a group or individual it involves stimulus, response and processes in between. Think of negotiation. One person makes a proposal, the other analyzes the offer then responds. Ultimately a deal is made or not. And the attitudes of the participants towards each other are changed forever, be it better or worse. Communication is no different.

Let’s use the example of a couple deciding to go to dinner. Why does this seem to cause such angst with couples? Analysis of this communication “transaction” might reveal clues.

Someone decides its time to eat and queries “Whatcha wanna do for dinner?” What does the speaker really mean? Here are some possibilities:

Let’s eat now!
Where do you want to eat?
You know where I want to eat. I’m just asking to be polite
What are you going to prepare?
Let’s go to a low budget place
Let’s go to a high budget place
I’m not hungry. Just being considerate asking

Those are possibilities. There may be so many more. What does the speaker really mean? Hard to tell from the question.

We’ve now gone through 2 communication transactions. The first was the speaker determining its time to consider dinner. The second was the speaker verbalizing the thoughts.

Let’s go to transaction number 3. This is the key time that usually throws the process off course. The listener now hears and interprets the question. Here’s some alternatives.

What do I want to eat?
Do I want to eat?
Where do we eat?
Do I cook?
Do they cook?
Do I care what we do for dinner?
Do they care and aren’t really telling me?
If I make the wrong choice they’ll be ticked.
If we don’t do what I want I’ll be ticked.
If I pick an expensive place will they be ticked?

Listener chooses the safe alternative: “Whatever you’d like to do.”

Now we’re even although we are still considering dinner. The original questioner now must process the response. What does it mean?

Do they really have a preference? Are they asking me to guess?
Do I have a preference?
We’ve done this before and I always guess wrong.
Why is this such a big deal?
I really don’t care, just tell me.
Should I respond with my preference?
Should I respond with their preference?
Am I really interested in continuing this tennis match
Here’s what I want-here goes

Response: Let’s go to XYZ

Back to processing the response:

I don’t like XYZ
(S)he knows I don’t like that place
That was said just to tick me off
I don’t remember if (s)he actually even likes that place

Response: “I don’t like XYZ”

More processing:

I thought (s)he just said anywhere I want!?
What else do I want?
Why tell me anything then say no?
Where do they want? I guess I guessed wrong.
I don’t care, I just want to eat

Agitated response. This will raise the tension: “You said anywhere, now you said no. Make up your mind”

Relationship preserver response: “That’s OK. I don’t want to eat anywhere you’d be unhappy. What do you have in mind?”

We may or may not have reached the end of this dialog. But it’s easy to see how such conversations get off track. One solution is to give more data, leaving less to assumption.

Suppose the original speaker gave it a little more thought and said something such as “Whatcha wanna do for dinner? I really just want something light, not too expensive, and something quick. I was thinking of XYZ”.

With all those specifics so many assumptions are gone. It really doesn’t matter in this situation whether the receiver agrees with the choice or suggestion. The revised original inquiry gives more specifics for the receiver to process and consider before responding.

Can you think of seemingly benign communications that went off track? What could you have done to promote good communication in those instances?

As you move forward try to be more specific and detailed in your communications. See if it helps.

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