Do you find it interesting that after many years of humans learning to use spoken language, and all the work done on verbal and non-verbal communication cues, we still manage to grow a misunderstanding based on the outcomes of communication? Me too! I also find it fascinating that even efforts by communication experts aimed at exploring how the human intellect and interpretation of what people say still has not solved the many flaws that still exist when it comes to human communications. So what then is the problem?
Let’s start with exploring the language aspects of communication. Due to digital globalization and other aspects of human activities pre-dating what is now regarded as civilization, it has made it that English has become the universal language of communication to a great extent, while also making English the most diversified language so far. People may speak exactly the same set of words in English, but this same set of words may mean an entirely different thing to the people who are speaking these things. For example, if someone said, “let’s hook up later” in America, it means something very different from what someone from a place like Africa means when they say, “let’s hook up later”! One proposes a rendezvous that will involve sexual activities, while one proposes a rendezvous where there will be food, drinks, music, or other very light-hearted activities. Do they appear to have similar meanings? Yes. Do they actually have similar meanings? Not really.
Next, let’s explore the cultural aspect of language. Culture greatly shapes what we say, when we say it, and what we mean when we say these things. Granted, there are quite a number of words that are considered inappropriate or even vulgar despite it’s context. Do we need to call out the “eff” words here? I agree with you; we don’t! But again, even when English is the universal language, there are words that would rather be used in certain cultures above others. For example, the British might say “boot” to refer to the storage at the rear of the car, while an American might more readily say “trunk” to refer to the same part of the car. Here is the interesting part of how culture interferes with language: an American who is visiting Britain for the first time would be surprised that Americans who have lived in Britain for so long cannot immediately relate with them calling it a trunk, and a British who is in America for the first time would be surprised that their British relatives cannot immediately relate with them calling it the boot of the car! In this case, what has influenced the choice of word here is the culture that is predominantly a part of the speaker’s life.
With increased awareness of how language and communication between humans continue to evolve, experts have gone on to examine how tone of voice affects how the listener understands, reacts, or responds to what the speaker is saying. It has even been established that an estimated 70% of misunderstandings come from the wrong tone of voice. Other communication experts believe that texting an information across creates a greater likelihood that there will be a misunderstanding between the people involved. Psychology and law has come up with a way of matching a person’s words with their ‘body language’ to determine if they are being honest about what they are saying.
So why do we still suffer all kinds of distress and dissatisfaction even when we believe that we are skilled communicators? Here is something that I recently learned about communications: INTENTIONS! We often do not pay attention to the intentions behind what we say or what people say to us. Why does it matter? Intentions have very strong impact on the set of words we chose to use in communicating. Observably, when there is a mismatch of intent between people, then communication may never go well between these people because there is a set of words that form the language behind every intention we hold. There is a language for domination, there is a language for anger however well concealed on the surface hence passive-aggression, there is a language for kindness when well-intended, there is a language for peace, there is a language for unity…there is a language that even shows forth our personality types when we speak them.
So if you’re wondering why two people who come from the same culture and speak the same language end up misunderstanding themselves, it is because there is a misalignment of intentions or interests! If you were to be wondering why two people in an intimate relationship never agree, it is because they are most likely both unaware of a misaligned intention or interest. Speaking a fluent language of love to someone who only understands the language of control or vice versa will result in chaos. So now we see that what holds relationships together is intention, much more than communication.
How does this apply to daily living? It helps to know what our intentions are before we speak. Knowing exactly what we intend to achieve at the end of each communication we engage in is guiding to how we start, navigate, and conclude the conversation. So how do we go about communications for the best outcomes?
- Determine what your original and most important intention is, and focus on that. If you are the listener, try to figure out what the intent of the speaker is, and if unsure, ASK!
- After establishing intent, select the most potent communication method that will convey the message with very little or no alterations or dilutions. If you are the responder, determine how best to respond to the communicated intent.
- Understand that the conversation may follow a random pattern that is different than how we suppose the conversation will go. The three common sequence that conversations follow are: Arguments, Persuasion, and Convincing. Once again, intentions guide how we say what we say, and how the listener receives it.
- Accept that the outcomes may not necessarily be what you want it to be. If you feel you have presented convincing evidences, but the argumentative phase still persists, then it may be time to recognize the irreconcilable intentions between the both parties and reconsider your stances.
- If arguing, persuading, and efforts at convincing are not working, consider negotiation; it is a good way to consciously marry intentions!
Let’s go out there and better our human experience with the most we can each day. Sanity is sometimes just a sound communication away!
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