Monday, October 04, 2010

But what I meant was ……

Mis-communication, mis-understanding and confusion can happen to all of us. Despite our best intentions, other people can pick up entirely the wrong message. Sometimes it’s merely annoying or even funny. Other times it can lead to disastrous consequences. It is interesting to speculate just how many good intentions but poor communications have led to the problems surrounding the Commonwealth Games and its late delivery.

It pays to step back and remember that the communication process is not simply one person saying/doing something and one person receiving and understanding. Instead we have a double filter system operating.

I start with an intention to communicate A to you. Using my filters, I decide to do behaviour B to express my intention. Unfortunately, through your filters, my behaviour means something quite different to my original intention. So you respond to what you think is my clear, but unfortunately completely erroneous, message. I see your behaviours and translate them back and so on.

For better communication and relationships, we need to keep remembering that everyone’s filters are different. They reflect our preferences, our experiences to date, cultural norms and assumptions. Some we may be aware of, others are deeply ingrained but opaque.

When mis-understanding happens it is worth examining:
(a)    did my behaviours competently indicate my intention in the first place?
(b)    what are the possible filters the recipient might have?
(c)    did I check understanding at the intention level or simply check “receipt”?

It is also worth remembering that being human is an imperfect activity!

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