5 Ways to Be Misunderstood

I like to make people laugh. So in college, while talking to a girl at a party, the last thing I wanted to hear after I’d made a joke was, “I don’t get you.” Yet that’s exactly what happened. She sat there with a confused look on her face, staring at me. “I can never tell whether you’re joking or serious,” she said. It made sense. When I made a joke, my face would be deadpan. I thought that added to the humor, but it always confused literal thinkers—and it resulted in being misunderstood.

Back then, I felt misunderstood all the time. My humor confused some people and made others think I didn’t take anything seriously. And my sarcasm made people think I was insensitive. I hate being misunderstood. While I’m not solely to blame for all the times it’s happened, there are things I’ve done to help it. Being misunderstood keeps us from connecting with people and having positive relationships, and it lessens our impact on our kids. Hopefully you’ll learn from some of my mistakes. Here are 5 ways to be misunderstood.

1. Be sarcastic.

Obviously, this is a big one for me. I find sarcasm funny, but it can also be confusing to people and cutting. It’s often a joke that gets a laugh at the expense of others. Someone pays a price. At best, there are people left out of the joke, and at worst, it’s hurtful. Maybe that’s why Oscar Wilde called it the “lowest form of wit.” A higher form of wit would make everyone laugh and certainly would be humorous without tearing someone down. Sarcastic people tend not to act with malice or an intent to harm, but to others, they can certainly come off that way. So if you gravitate to sarcasm, it may be causing people to see you a certain way—a way that doesn’t represent you well.

2. Be inconsistent.

One of the biggest problems parents have and one of the biggest ways to be misunderstood is to overpromise and under-deliver. We want our kids or our bosses to be happy with us, so we say yes—that we’ll do whatever it is. But then, we don’t follow through. In his famous Sermon the Mount (Matthew 5:37), Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.'” We can’t say yes just with good intentions. When we say yes, we need to calculate whether we have the ability to follow through. Our inconsistencies make other people, including our kids, see us as unreliable.

3. Be what you think they want.

The thing that’s held me back the most in my life and career has been being what I think people want rather than my authentic self. People either will see it for what it is—fraud—or they’ll just be confused. They’ll know something’s off. Are you afraid to be the real you? Are you constantly on guard from being seen or vulnerable? Psalm 139 tells us our worth. It says that God knits each of us together and that we are wonderfully made. Each of us has a unique and extraordinary design. God made you with purpose. He didn’t make you to pretend to be like someone else. So be you.

4. Focus only on your perspective.

When there’s a language barrier, why do we think speaking slower or louder will help? If you want to be understood in a different country, you need to speak the language. Period. The same is true for our perspective on an issue or the world in general. If we want to be understood, we first have to understand alternative perspectives. We need to be able to speak the language of a different viewpoint, especially an opposing viewpoint.

5. Make quick judgements about people.

When Jesus was being arrested, Peter, one of his most devoted followers, drew his sword and began to fight. But Jesus told him to put his sword away, “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) In the same way, if you make quick judgments about people, then people will make quick judgments about you. But if you listen, seek understanding, and assume the best in others, then often, the same will be given to you.

Sound off: What are some other ways to be misunderstood?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What does it mean to be consistent, and why is it important?”