‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’ George Bernard Shaw made this observation about 100 years ago, and it’s just as valid now.

What you think you ‘said’ may not be what they ‘heard’! Here are a few recent examples:

  • Edwin* values: Maintaining stability; Risk avoidance – he is quickly able to see potential problems in any solution offered.
  • Edwin’s intention is to encourage diverse thinking in his team and engage others in department planning.
  • His team ‘hear’: His regular ‘Yes but…’ responses have lead to feedback that he is not open to suggestions, and is resistant to change.
  • Margaret values: Time; Getting things done.
  • Margaret’s intention is to fit as much as possible into the time she has available.
  • Her 2IC ‘hears’ that Margaret doesn’t value people. ‘She is always late to meetings and this demonstrates Margaret’s lack of respect for me and the rest of the team.’
  • Ari values: People.
  • Ari’s intention is to create a harmonious work environment where people feel confident to express their thoughts and emotions.
  • His executive peers ‘hear’: Ari is emotional, needy, and cares too much about what the staff thinks.
  • Alex values: Direct and clear communication.
  • Alex’s intention is to engage in open conversation where the meaning is explicit, and to avoid any body language or implied communication that can be misinterpreted.
  • Her peers ‘hear’: A lack of warmth and wonder if her careful word choice indicates she is hiding something or making judgments about them.

Communication can be like Morse code; you hear it and you know it’s Morse code, but you don’t understand the meaning without learning how to decode it.

What do you ‘say’ today that was important? What did others ‘hear’? And did you ‘hear’ what they intended to ’say’? Share your thoughts here.

* Note: All names changed.


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