“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” ~William Butler Yeats
Spoken (and written) language is a marvelous thing. Communication through the interchange of language makes human society possible, even humanness itself. We have all been wielding language our whole lives. Alas, we are terrible at it. Novels, stories, movies and songs: they all chronicle how pathetic we are at communicating. Ironically, our best communicators are the ones writing those novels and stories and movies and songs, the subject matter of which details our repeated failures. Being the most superior of our communicators, one would expect their lives must represent the pinnacle of human communication. In fact, as a group they are infamous for their relationship fiascos.
What goes wrong for them, goes wrong for all. Getting from one end of the four states of communication to the other is like careening down a foggy mountain. There are twists and turns and we can’t see a thing. How does communication take place?
What You Mean
It all begins with what you mean. After all, you have something in mind to say. Oh, you may not have the words yet but you know what you mean.
What You Say
Then you start talking and the trouble begins. Maybe it’s because you’re lazy, maybe it’s because you’re rushed or pressured, maybe it is because you’re just not smart enough. But the result is there is a gap between what you mean and what you say. (Dear reader, I do not wish to be too hard on you but you know from what afflictions we suffer.)
What You Hear
What’s said is now said. But the hearer has his own agenda, he has his own points of reference, he has his own dictionary for the words you used. If you are really honest with yourself, you probably don’t even hear the words that are said to you, you just hear some of them and fill in the rest with what you expect they might have said.
What You Understand
You know (or at least you think you know) what you heard. But you don’t stop there. You now “translate” it into what you are sure they meant, or what you would like them to have meant.
“It’s a wild ride from “meant” to “said” to “heard” to “understood”. ” click to tweet
If we can tighten up this trip from “meant” to “said” to “heard” to “understood”, communication can make colossal strides. Take responsibility for all communication, both as the transmitter and as the receiver. Take note, no, take responsibility when someone misunderstands, when someone mishears, and when we speak ineffectively. Instead of asynchronous monologs, strive for actual dialogs. Language separates us from the animals. Poor communication separates us from the angels.
Where have you succeeded at communicating? Share your experiences below by commenting.
Photo credit: Daniel Oines
One thought on “Why Communication Fails and How to Fix It”
Sometimes I think everyone is just waiting their turn to talk and no one is listening. In fact, sometimes they don’t even wait. So it is up to me…