Miller’s Law: “In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to find out what it could be true of.” (George Miller, 1980) Suzette Haden Elgin explains how this works in You Can’t Say That to Me: Stopping the Pain of Verbal Abuse.
- We assume that what we heard is true, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.
- We listen with an open mind, so that we can get the information we need to verify that assumption and find out what it is true of.
Here are examples of what you can say to correct misunderstandings.
When language you hear doesn’t make sense or seems deliberately hurtful.
- I think I must have misunderstood you. Could you say that again for me, please?
- I know you wouldn’t have said that unless you had a good reason; could you tell me what it was?
When someone else reacts negatively to your speech.
- I have a feeling that perhaps you misunderstood me. Let me try to be more clear.
- I know you wouldn’t have reacted like that to what I said without a good reason. I’d like very much to know what it is.
Examples of using Miller’s Law from The Litigators by John Grisham.
1. “I’m missing something here, Wally. Help me. Aren’t we required to prove, at some point, that the drug actually causes some kind of damage?”(page 109)
2. “I’m having trouble understanding why a federal judge in Florida thinks he can order a federal judge in Illinois to transfer his cases down there. Can you help me here, Mr. Alisandros?” (page 182)
If you have a situation to share, you are invited to reply to this post.