Giving Up Our “If You Happen To” and Other Unclear Messages

sailboat-1“I’m going to take the sailboat out,” my husband said. “If you happen to see me, you could take a picture.”

“Okay,” I said.

He walked out the door and I continued ironing my shirt. Then, I paused and thought about it. If I happen to see him . . . well, I won’t happen to see him, unless I watch for him. But I think he wants me to take a picture. Why didn’t he say so!

Realizing that it would only take a few minutes to take that photo and wanting to do it for myself as well as him, I hurried upstairs, grabbed my camera, and walked to the edge of the lake. I arrived at the perfect time and got several good photos of my husband in the sailboat.

When he got back to the house, I discussed our communication, explaining that his statement—if you happen to see me, could you take a picture—was indirect and unclear. Although, I automatically interpreted it in my mind to mean that he wanted me to take a picture, it would have taken less energy and process time if he’d made a simple request such as, I’m taking the sailboat out; will you please watch me and take a picture?

This might sound picky. I can get picky. But most of the time I don’t correct my husband’s wording of a sentence. I did so in this instance partially because I wanted an illustration about indirect and unclear communication—something many of us commonly use.

Why do we use indirect communication, making general statements instead of specific ones? And what makes this unhelpful or frustrating? Why do we do it might be related to our culture. In some cultures, being direct is considered rude. It could be rude, for example, if we make a request without the courtesy of saying “Please”, or if we speak in an angry tone of voice.

Other reasons for our use of indirect communication might be 1) we are afraid to ask for what we want 2) we believe that it’s not “right” to ask for things or 3) we don’t want to admit to our real desires. I’m not doing to discuss reasons for these beliefs, but they’re not based on Christian principles. They arise out of guilt or fear or shame.

  • Faith is God’s answer to guilt.
  • Love is God’s solution for fear.
  • Hope is God’s promise for shame.

Believing his promises and feeling secure in his love frees us to speak openly and directly in our communication with one another.

Most of the time, my husband is direct in his communication. He clearly tells me what he wants. Most of the time, I give it to him.

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