How often have you tried to talk to someone, doing your best to explain to them as clearly as possible your ideas or thoughts, only to find that at the end their understanding of what you said was very different from yours?  Or, in other words, they just didn’t get it.

Words are used to describe an experience.  The order of words in a sentence is not random, as they change and impact the way you think and communicate with others (eg. “Sarah gave John the report” v “John gave Sarah the report” – same words, different impact) .  However, have you considered that the words that you use to describe an experience are producing an effect in yours and others minds?

If you say, “Sarah gave John the report”, you will get a representation of that in your mind – you may get a visual of the exchange, you may feel frustrated that the report is late, you may hear the conversation as it happened, you may feel guilty that you didn’t hand over the report yourself, you may remember the chat you and John had about it.  Smell and taste play a part in the representations we make in our minds, but not sure either of those would come into play in this context!!!

You may have imagined all or some of those things, or a completely different possibility.  But so would another person – and often very differently to you.

In your mind you have created your own unique representation from that one sentence.  This representation is made of pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, smells and your own inner dialogue (including beliefs, values and memories).

As an exercise, try writing the word “WORK” and underneath it writing five different meanings of that word.  Now ask other people what that word means to them.  You’ll be surprised how differently the understanding of that word may be to yours.

Words label our experience, and apparently around the 19th century a decision was made to give words a unique meaning (i.e. “one word = one meaning”).  However, because of the representation each individual makes, there are actually many meanings to each word and every sentence.

So when you are next communicating to someone, remember that their mind will represent what you say in a unique way, and a way that could be very, very different to yours. So, take your time, ask them questions about what they understand from your discussion, actively listen to their response and stop assuming that they will be thinking the same way as you.

Have you got some good examples of miscommunication that could have been down to this?

Find out more about self-awareness for effective communication or contact us regarding executive coaching.

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