I Heard What You Said…But Maybe Not
“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” ~Sydney J. Harris
Your outlook on life (your interpretation and integration of everything that happens to and around you) is distorted by your personal history, colored by your previous experiences.
You know this.
But it is not the actual events, but rather your internal experiences of them that clouds your ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. And that is the problem: personal fiction-based communication totally screws up understanding, undermines collaboration, and suffocates teams.
Fact: the data, the neutral event; the actor not the part he plays.
Fiction: our interpretation of the event, the way we filter it, the story we create internally and wrap around it.
What gets in the way of really getting through to another person—to understand what’s being communicated—is our tendency to state an interpretation as fact:
- “That was disrespectful.”
- “Stop being so stubborn.”
- “You did a lousy job.”
Listen to the difference when fact—the visual and vocal data) is stated first, and then the interpretation:
- “When you repeatedly interrupt me after asking a question and I am unable to finish my response, I feel disrespected.”
- “When you ask the same question over and over while slouching in your chair and rolling your eyes, I can only think that you don’t want to have this conversation. I certainly don’t feel as though you’re listening.”
- “When you said ‘______’ and then crossed your arms, I think the client shut disengaged.”
Now there is no fiction, just an explanation of your interpretation what you saw or heard.
That kind of communication is both informative and clarifying. Like activating your car’s windshield wipers in the middle of a rain storm, it helps you see where you’re headed.
If you don’t explain the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ you are trying to say, especially in tense situations, people won’t really hear you and they’ll generally get defensive pretty fast.
Whether we want to connect, correct, or compliment someone, we do it with words. If the words we use only fan the flame of discord rather than douse the spark of conflict, we are not communicating.
We may be talking, but we are not communicating.
Stick to the facts, not your story, or you can kiss collaboration goodbye.
“There is more than a verbal tie between the words common, community, and communication. Try the experiment of communicating, with fullness and accuracy, some experience to another, especially if it be somewhat complicated, and you will find your own.” ~John Dewey