Today’s topic focusses on communication, whether that be with co-workers, our supporting community or even in our personal relationships. Specifically I hope to engage us in a discussion about the gap between what we say and how it is perceived.
I have always been amazed when sitting in a meeting how everyone walks away with their own interpretation of what was said. We all have different motivations for the things that we do. It’s not a far stretch then to say that we all have different perceptions of what we hear. We are, in essence, a summary of all our learning and experiences.
For example: I show appreciation with words. When I think someone has done a good job or has handled a situation well, I tell them. People have responded to this in one of two ways. Some feel acknowledged and say thank you. Others see it as a form of manipulation or insincere flattery.
I used to have a boss who felt this way. I’m not exaggerating when I say there was a lot of friction between us. We both tried in our own way to reach out and ‘fix’ it. Sometimes I would find little chocolates waiting for me on my keyboard, in a drawer or arranged in some ‘cute’ fashion on my desk. I knew my boss had put them there. It made me angry. I thought it was a cheap ploy to try to make up for how he didn’t appreciate my work.
One day it occurred to me that while I showed appreciation with my words, my boss showed appreciation with little gifts. With this new revelation in my relationship-building toolbox, I began to show appreciation by leaving chocolates in his office. The result? A dramatically improved working relationship and environment.
We all want to be understood. And we all want to understand. Instead of bringing us together this need often tears us apart. Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? One man touches the elephant’s leg and says to himself, “An elephant is like a pillar.” Another touches its tail and declares, “An elephant is like a rope.” Yet another touches its ear and concludes, “An elephant is like a fan.” This misunderstanding leads to warring among them. Little do they know that they are all right.
What would happen if the blind men ask questions for clarity? All hold a portion of the truth and listening to each other’s answers would help them to see the bigger picture. Imagine how employing this concept can lead to better outcomes for all of us when applied with our co-workers and to our projects. It can make the difference between ‘warring’ and ‘building community’.
When two parties speak the same language, a gap between what is being said and what is being understood can exist – even when both parties are saying the same thing. It is important to identify these gaps and figure out how to communicate in a way that is understood as it is meant.
Suggested Questions to start the Discussion
In relation to co-workers; can you remember a situation when you were struggling to be understood or to understand someone else? How did it play out? How can the gap between what we say and what is understood be addressed?
In relation to organizational communication with our supporting community; can you identify instances were industry terms or organizational key messages are confusing to the general public? How does your organization address this issue?
The purpose of The Other Bottom Line is to facilitate discussions that will help us all to better engage with our communities. Your participation and feedback are most welcomed and valued. Please join the discussion below.