Why I Can’t Understand You By Prof. Marvell Lawson |
Since we speak the same language, we can easily understand one another…right? The answer to this question is a resounding NO! Humans make the mistake of assuming that when they explain something; everyone understands what they say, how they feel about it, and what action needs to be taken because of what is said.
The truth is language, any language, is a series of sounds, grunts, groans, whistles, and clicks; and is received by others who think they know what the sounds mean. That sounds good and well, but that is the reason why we are most often misunderstood. Think about it. I have an idea in my head and I wish to transmit it to you. First, I must know what the idea in my head is. This sounds a little silly, but it is a very important beginning point. If I don’t know what I want to transmit, how can I communicate my thoughts to you? Once I perceive the idea and understand it, then I can attempt to communicate it to you. Through a medley of vocal gymnastics, I transmit a coded message to you, which you receive, part of it, and using your perception begin to decode it.
The important point is the message you receive hinges totally on your perception of what I say. Since the message is in code, or words, we must attempt to translate the code into a language we can understand. That language is the language of everything our senses have come in contact with since our conception. We build our translation using everything we know. This means, it is virtually impossible for us to know what is in each other’s minds. We absorb what we can, but we can never put ourselves in another person’s thoughts or understanding. Therefore, communication is like flying a lot of kites. No matter how we try to make them fly in formation, any deviation of wind at any one point will send any kite off in a direction that was not planned.
There are two instances that demonstrate the point.
1. You explain exactly what you want done. You take great pains in identifying the starting point, listing the order of the steps, and defining what the outcome will be. Your subordinate says they understand and take off to begin the work. After a while, you go to check-up to ensure everything is working out only to find that the subordinate is working on something that doesn’t resemble what you had in mind. Why? The rules of communication were not observed. You thought the words you used explained what you wanted done. The subordinate thought the words they heard explained what you meant. Neither one of you were right, or both of you were right. The issue is language is a tool. It is not a perfect tool, but it does help us in our quest to understand what people say. 2. Men and women understanding each other when they talk. The language of women is filled with pictures and emotion. Men, on the other hand, use the pointed basic straight forward language. Neither way is right or wrong, just different. The words that are used are the same, but the meaning is often different depending on who is interpreting them. Part of the problem with understanding what we say to each other is the thing we call language is really just a meaningless code. Our languages are a series of sounds and pauses that really don’t transmit any real thought. The receiver can only translate from their personal point of view. Most of the time we try to get as close as we can, but at best, we can only transmit and receive only part of the intended message.
Think for a minute about all the sounds people can make with their mouths. They can be melodic, sharp clicking, whistling, sighing, humming, hissing, rolling, guttural, and on and on. The sounds we make, for the most part, are taught, and the meaning for each sound is determined subjectively. Try as I might, could this be the reason I can’t understand you?
? Author of forthcoming book “Small Business Superstar Speaking Secrets”, professional speaker, and communication coach who works with individuals and organizations wanting to improve their speech preparation and presentation skills; and communicate more effectively to grow their business, make more money, and build personal and professional credibility. Prof. Lawson is an Affiliate Professor lecturing on Public Speaking, Interpersonal Communication, and Organizational Communication and Development. Visit my website at www.centerforinformationdesign.com Contact me at: email firstname.lastname@example.org or give a call to 303.947.0962, ask for Allen
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