Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What I said, what you heard

I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.
- Antonio Porchia, writer (1886-1968)

When we speak or write, we always know what we mean, what we intend to convey in our message. What we don't know is how the receiver of our message interpreted what we said or wrote.

The problem is not just that English words have many different meanings. The problem is that our brains latch onto certain words while virtually ignoring others. From these certain few words in a message, our brains formulate what they believe the speaker or write intended to say.

This problem is so peculiar that I have many times known people to be in heated debate over an apparent issue, when in fact they are both arguing the same side of the issue. In other words, they were arguing, but they agreed on which side of the argument was better. They could not "hear" the message that the other person was saying, they could only pick up and latch onto words that were different from words they would have used. These words gave them a different impression of what their debate "opponent" was saying than what was intended.

I wonder, for example, in the six nation negotiations involving North Korea, how often the negotiators agree but are unable to see that they agree. Thus they conclude that the "others" must be either stupid or perverse.

Whenever there is doubt about how what we have said has been interpreted by another person, we should ask that person what he or she understood from what we said.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' trying to show the world that many of our differences are really similarities that we express differently.
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