No one actually knows what you are saying.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to most people that others misunderstand or don’t even seem to hear much of what is said.  We assume people we talk at will understand a good portion of what we say. Otherwise, we would likely not say as much as we do.  It would soon be pointless.

Dude, those are some nice shoes.

The process of communicating with speech is messy and frustrating.  Even if the other person is acting like a good receiver by nodding and giving the requisite “uh huh,” likely they missed a good portion of the text and a large portion of the meaning we intend.

When we are speaking to others, what they understand is only partially influenced by our intended meaning.  A large part of receiving information is subject to one’s emotional state, attention to the details of our speech, current thoughts, ability to understand our words, and especially what the receiver expects us to be saying.

The expectation part is most obvious when you notice others beginning to respond before you have even formed your idea into words.  For the most part, people are not listening, they are anticipating.  This is true for verbal (both spoken and written) and nonverbal communication.  Patients notice this when talking to doctors, children when speaking with parents, students when conversing with teachers, and lovers once their twitterpation has dissolved.  It is frustrating.

You aren’t going to change it either.  You may be able to make people more attentive with your charisma, but even if your audience is attentive, there is no guarantee that they understand what you are saying based on what you said.  What you say is just a template for their mind to wander around or hopefully wonder about.

Have you ever heard this leading phrase: “So what you are saying is…” Only occasionally is it followed by the actual meaning of our words. Talking heads on news programs that I stopped watching about a decade ago and columnist I still begrudgingly read are often paid to say (or write) that others are saying things that they didn’t actually say.

When dealing with individuals and small groups, the only approximate solution requires tolerance and patience.  If you can get a shot at their mind (which may seem nearly impossible if you are speaking with your doctor) you might be able to rephrase and get them to ask a question or two.  You might try a metaphor or a story if there is time.  You might just decide that it isn’t worth trying, and you are likely not wrong.  You can’t force someone to understand.

The point of this rant is be patient. Expect that others have expectations and don’t let your own expectation of clear communication interrupt real communication.

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