Over the first three parts, we’ve focused on our responsibility for ensuring that what we intend to communicate is understood by the other person. Yesterday, we discussed Heather’s excellent point that – still – when it comes right down to it, people will interpret according to their own belief systems. Most of the time, this is unconscious. This makes it no less true. It’s simply one of those “Laws of Life.”
Of course, you and I fall victim to this very same Law. We tend to interpret through our belief systems. Ours are also firmly in place and just as vulnerable to misinterpretation as that of others.
Sometimes, we take things out of context. Other times, we misunderstand one’s entire point completely. And, still other times, because we attach a certain meaning to one word based on our own past experiences, we see the person as meaning something totally different than what they intended.
Has anyone ever done any of those to you, unintentional as it was? I think it happens to all of us from time to time. It can be frustrating, can’t it? It’s also an excellent reminder for us to stay conscious of not doing the same to others.
Main point: We all (I, more than anyone) need to stay consciously aware of our very human tendency to filter the words of others through our own mental software. Being aware gives us a fighting chance to overcome it. We can then take steps to gain better understanding.
For example, reversing yesterday’s suggestion, we can paraphrase back to them what we believe they meant and ask questions – again, when context and situation is appropriate – to determine if we understood them correctly.
Accept responsibility for being understood. Accept responsibility for understanding. It doesn’t always work out the way we’d like it, but it’s a goal to constantly shoot for.
If I may, I’d like to summarize this series with the following two points, followed by an additional thought: If our goal is to become the best and most effective communicator we can be, it is up to us to – as best as possible …
- Ensure that when we are speaking/writing, we take responsibility for making sure our point is communicated clearly and that the other person understands us.
- Ensure that when we are listening/reading, we take responsibility for making sure we understand the intent of the other person.
Additional thought (and this will greatly increase likeability as well as understanding): as the listener/reader, if you find that your immediate reaction is to disagree with the person, then, before verbalizing it or writing, first ask yourself, “what else could he/she have meant in this context? Am I seeing it as they probably meant it or am I seeing it subjectively? Am I listening with an ‘ear toward understanding’ or an ear toward disagreeing?”
Staying conscious of the above two points (and the additional thought) won’t make any of us perfect communicators. It will make us much, much more effective and persuasive communicators.