My wife and I were making supper when she gestured toward the counter and said, “Hand me that over there.”
We often say odd things like this and what rarely makes sense to any one else, usually makes sense to us.
It is because we have been at this business of living together long enough to stay mostly in sync – but every once in a while something slips out of gear.
“What?” I ask.
“That,” she says without indicating what that might be.
“THAT,” she says, again gesturing wildly at a kitchen counter full of thats.
Here we reach an impasse. She could simply walk over to the counter and grab the thing she wants but it suddenly has become more important to her that I grasp what it is she is talking about.
It is a crisis of sorts.
Not a big crisis, mind you, but a crisis none the less.
Imagine if something like this happened in baseball.
A batter hits a line drive. The short-stop leaps to snatch it out of the air. He sees a runner advancing toward second base but finding himself off-balance, he flips the ball to the pitcher.
Who looks at it, completely dumbfounded.
His expression reads, “What am I supposed to do with this?”
And everyone on bar stools across the country talks about it for the next two weeks.
It is not a failure of communication because nothing was communicated. It was a failure of trust.
Teams function more often by anticipation than communication. They perform at a level where it is almost impossible to observe the cues, if there are any.
Sometimes this can be deadly serious.
I used to work in a steel foundry where the thunder of machinery was so intense that you wouldn’t know if two dinosaurs were devouring each other a few feet behind you.
It was so loud that our only method of communication was crude hand signals. There was no way to discuss or explain or risk a mistake by playing charades. You simply had to anticipate what the other guy was thinking because his life and your life depended on it.
You had to trust each other to know what things like ‘that over there’ meant.
The same with marriage.
You have to know when your spouse is down, so you can lift them up. You have to know when they are sailing too high, so you can gently settle them back down to earth.
You have to know when you did something wrong and when to let go after being wronged.
You have to know what the other is actually saying, when their words say something else.
So it is a big deal when tiny miscommunications crop up, which is why she wouldn’t stop to explain or even walk over to get what she wanted.
She had to get us back in sync.
It didn’t take long.
“Oh…You mean the thing?” I finally said.
“Yeah, the thing.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?”