The problem with the truth
Were they lying, or was it really “their truth”? And, if it was their truth, which truth is the truth, since recollections do vary.
Well, the truth is, it’s complicated. Communication itself is complicated. As George Bernard Shaw said “The greatest problem with communication is the illusion it has been accomplished.”
Communication consists of the transmission of a message and the way it is received. At and between those two points lie a myriad of opportunities for problems to arise.
Our communication filters
How so? We hear things through a number of filters. We do this because there are literally millions of pieces of data available to us at any one time. So the brain has to filter in order to make sense of what is happening. The following are 10 filters I notice in people:
- Beliefs (what we believe to be true)
- Our values (what is important to us)
- Deletions – we delete what we think isn’t important (though it may be to the communicator)
- Distortions – we subconsciously distort things to fit in with our idea of what they mean
- Generalisations – we respond in the same way to similar situations out of habit
- Confirmation Bias – we look for information to fit our expectations and ignore information that doesn’t. This is a combination of deleting, distorting and generalising in one!
- Negativity Bias – we simply assume the worst
- Our wounds
- Our dreams and aspirations
So, communication is difficult at the best of times, and when emotions are involved, it can be even more complex. People can become stubbornly entrenched in a viewpoint and assume that intent is to hurt or harm when the actual intent may have been to help.
A case in point
This morning I was walking the dog. It was only 6.45 but there was a woman weaving her way around with a can of beer in her hand. She called out to me “Have a nice day”. I replied “and you”. She started shouting at me, I asked what was wrong and she said I had called her a Jew, not that I have the slightest issue with Jews or anyone of any religious background or enthnicity. I had to stipulate that I had said “and you” not “you Jew”, enunciating as clearly as I could without sounding patronising. So, as well as the early morning alcohol distorting her hearing, she seems to have issues around old wounds (being judged) which have caused some distortions in her thinking. She may have generalised that people with dogs are bigotted. She may have assumed that whatever I answered would have been intended as an insult or to hurt her in some way (negativity bias). I would like to say there was a happy ending to this story but I would be distorting the truth. It is, however, a good reflection of how an intended communication can so easily be misinterpreted.
10 Communication tips
How to avoid miscommunication so that your words do not do the dance of all dances through the other person’s filtering systems? There are so many things to consider but here is a short list:
- Having a clear outcome in a conversation helps you to focus
- Make sure your complete focus is on the conversation and that you do twice as much listening as talking
- Do your best to see things from the others’ perspective (before, during and after the conversation) to avoid misunderstandings and to create a path for a mutually acceptable way forward
- When discussing something important, wait until everybody is calm so that it doesn’t escalate and so that everyone is thinking clearly. Take a time out of things get heated.
- Always be thoughtful about what you are saying and whether it is clear
- Speak calmly, clearly and respectfully – tone is so important
- As the listener, paraphrase what you heard “so, what you are saying is x”
- If the communicator disagrees, simply correct the misunderstanding as graciously as possible to keep channels of communications open
- If the listener’s body language, tone or attitude is out of keeping with the way the conversation is going, or you would like it to go, ask “You seem unhappy with what you have heard, help me understand”. This will probably be that they don’t feel heard, understood or they don’t agree. An acknowledgement will enable you to clarify or find a mutually acceptable way forward.
- Someone wisely said to remember that everyone is doing their best with what they know in the moment. When we know better we do better.
And it’s more complicated than that
When it comes to communication, we do this through our words, body language (including facial expression) and also our tone. It is really important (and perhaps alarming) to know that words only account for only 7% of the message, Yes, you read that right – just 7%! Body language, however, is 55% and tone is 38%. So, if your face is filled with judgement and fury, it doesn’t matter what you say, they will hear judgement and fury. An open and attentive expression and demeanour coupled a gentle, non-patronising tone will make a huge and positive difference to the way in which your message is received.
On a final note, if you can foster a blend of awareness, patience, compassion and grace, with practice your ability to enjoy positive and clear communications will increase.
Want more help?
As always, if you need more in-depth help on this complicated subject, do get in touch or call 0345 130 0854 for a no-obligation chat.