Thursday, July 5, 2012

A second barrier to communication

More proof that language is the greatest barrier to communication.

Language is a strange thing. People say this all the time, too:

"Well, I had a [insert problem here], and I don't know if there's anything you can do for me, but [insert rambling].

Recognize it? Instead of actually asking if there was anything I could do to fix their problem, people state "I don't know if there's anything you can do for me." I'm expected to interpret that to mean they're asking me to help them and I should look for ways to do so, when in fact they never asked me to do anything.

Here's another one:

"[Insert your name here], I wish you would stop [insert something here]."

The person is not stating he wishes me to stop doing something. He's declaring that he wishes I would, and I interpret that to mean he's asking me to stop it. But he never said.

I think this is one thing that's getting me in trouble at work. These people are making statements like this all the time. Sometimes instead of finishing the thought they trail off, expecting me to jump in and answer the question they never asked.

"... and I don't know if there's anything you can do for me but..."

And the person trails off, waiting for me to do something for them.

But I'm waiting for them to ask me a question. I'm waiting for them to ask me to do something. People probably interpret this as rude. I'm breaking some unspoken code of ethics that states I must fill in the gaps of the other person's communication.

Whenever I point out that the other person has not asked me to do something, but asked "if I would mind" doing it, they interpret that as rude and argumentative as well. Probably is, but the other person did not ask me to do something. They asked me if I would mind. Maybe they don't like it when I point out how unclear they're being?

Why don't we say what we mean? We are wishy-washy and vague by implying what we mean, counting on the other person to know what we mean when in fact we have not stated it at all. This creates a situation wherein we expect the other person to just understand us, and if they don't, we blame them for not interpreting us correctly when in fact it is we who are at fault because we were unclear in the first place.

Why don't we simply be bold and make ourselves clear? Why do we expect other people to understand what we mean when we have said something else? Wait. I just did it didn't I? See, it sneaks up on you.

Be bold! Make yourself clear! Don't expect other people to understand what you mean when you haven't said what you mean!

One of the key elements of being a good writer is overcoming this colloquial expectation. Everyday speech is full of vague statements which rely on the listener to interpret properly. Writing can't get away with that. Writing must be very clear or else it won't form an image in the mind. If anyone is looking for a tip on how to start writing, or how to be a better writer, that's step one.

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