“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said…

…but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Couldn’t help but think about this quote as I experienced the pomp and circumstance of the Republican National Convention. At a time when communications to gain understanding was so vitally important, this event was a microcosm of everything that could go wrong. Why? Because the same message can mean different things to different people and considering the number of people in attendance, each message could have been interpreted in many, many ways.
Aside from the magnitude of the RNC event, it’s the same communications challenge we all face each day. Whether it’s communications to our employees, co-workers, customers, families or friends, we want our messages to be understood.  

In communications there is a sender and a receiver. Message sent; message received. Seems simple enough, right? It’s not. Along the way, a number of factors affect how the message is received and often, it's not in the way it was intended. That’s when things get disconnected.

Tone of voice, listening skills, non-verbals, point of reference and expectations are a few of the reasons that people interpret the same message in different ways. For example, if I say to you, “What are you doing?” and my tone of voice was loud and harsh and I looked agitated, you might interpret it much differently than if I asked you the same question using a casual and friendly manner. 

Are we really listening? Everyone wants to talk but how many of us really listen? The consequences to not listening can be costly. Messages are not conveyed properly, misunderstandings increase and in some cases, there's conflict.

How about the subtleties of non-verbal communications? The eye roll, the lean-in, the smile, eye contact, the frown, the sigh – all change the way a message is understood or not. What about points of reference? We all have a personal knowledge base of information accumulated from our experiences. If we receive a message that doesn’t fit our knowledge base, too often we try to make it fit and true understanding is lost.

See what I mean? Communicating in a meaningful way, where our messages are understood is not something that just happens. It’s a process that when done well, reaps significant rewards.

Posted by MJ Thomas

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