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The meaning of the communication is the response you get.

How many times have you said, “Wait! That’s not what I meant” when someone misinterpreted your remark or reacted in a way you didn’t expect? Happens all the time, doesn’t it? Those message misses can come up with colleagues, customers, kids, and spouses. And everyone else.

Students of Neuro Linguistic Programming would say it doesn’t much matter what you intended to convey. The key to communication—and often to MIScommunication—is what the other person hears (or reads) and the meaning it has for them.

Keeping that NLP presupposition in mind can make us way more effective in business … and everything else.

“The meaning of the communication is the response you get” has been top of mind for me the past few days, what with the wide variety of responses I get when I talk with friends and family about my husband and hospice care.

Clearly, hospice care is a loaded subject.

I’ve been saying pretty much the same thing to each of them. Chemo hasn’t worked out well for Frank, we’ve talked things over with doctors and other professionals, and he’s settling in at home with hospice care.

I know what I mean by that. Frank is as comfortable as he can be, I’m getting guidance to keep him comfortable, we are at peace, and the people who care about him are welcome to call or text or visit.

Also, what I mean doesn’t seem to make much difference!

People make their own meaning based on their experience, the lives of loved ones, and maybe stories they’ve heard. Their meaning-making comes through loud and clear in the way they respond to this news.

What is the response I get?

Tears from a few. I’m certainly not blasé, talking about end-of-life care for my husband. It’s a sad situation to be in. And, I’ve been in it long enough now that the fresh emotions are past, and I can talk about it without crying. At the same time, I’m comfortable with them crying. The sorrow seems like a natural reaction to news like this.

Suspicion surprised me. “How do you know the doctors are right?” “Nurses don’t really know when it’s time to give up.” “You’re not going to stop feeding him, are you?” Wow. I didn’t expect to be pelted with that kind of negativity. I noticed my own impulse to shield myself … and Frank too. Not in a hurry to repeat that conversation.

Some questions are more in the realm of seeking information. “What does a hospice agency do, anyway?” “Will he be able to stay at home?” “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” Those are conversation-creating questions—I’m happy to answer them and glad people care enough to ask them.

A picnic is a possibility. Okay, it was a “picnic” at the dining room table. We were delighted with the friends who brought lunch on the Fourth of July, sat with Frank and me all afternoon, and seemed totally comfortable with everything that went on here. And with what didn’t. It’s good to be with people who can roll with it, whatever it turns out to be.

Sometimes it’s all about them. Like the relative who doesn’t want to visit us now or even hear much about what’s happening. It’s just too upsetting; they “want to remember him the way he was.”

Mixed feelings make sense. Like the text from a long-time friend: “Sweetie, I’m so sad and glad for you both.” Yes. As they say about some romantic relationships, it’s complicated. There is sadness, of course, as an end approaches. At the same time, it’s a relief to have let go of some struggle and settled into what is, now.

And of course, “what is” will continue to change. I’m sure our feelings will change along with it, and I hope the people who care about us will stick around for this journey.

I hope you will, too. And I’m curious about the meaning you make from all this.