Do you ever feel like your point is just not getting across to people? It would be easier if people just saw things from our point of view. However, our perception might not always be reality. This is where conflict occurs.
Quite simply, perception is how we see the world around us. Think of it as a lens of a camera. Much like that lens, different types allow us to either focus or expand our view. Each of these lenses also has various and unique filters. Our filters are things like our values, environment, age, culture, etc. These filters significantly impact how we see the world and how our brains organize that information for future reference. The older we get, the more we add to these filters, meaning the way we saw something before might not always be how we see it today.
So, what does that have to do with how we communicate? Well, how we perceive communication is how we understand others. This also plays a massive role in how we communicate back. Misunderstanding occurs when the same message is interpreted in different ways by different people. If you’re a fan of the American version of The Office, then you might have caught a moment of differing interpretations of the same thing when Darryl and Oscar attended Andy’s garden party and argued over the meaning behind “rosebud” in reference to Citizen Kane.
Darryl: I think if I had parents like that, I’d be trying to convince everyone all the time how great I was, too.
Oscar: Guess we found Andy’s rosebud.
Oscar: It’s a reference to Citizen Kane. Something that explains why a person became the way they are.
Darryl: I know Citizen Kane. Rosebud didn’t explain why he was how he was. It just represented what was important to him as a child, that he missed.
Oscar: Different school of thought. Let’s just agree to disagree.
Darryl: No, you’re wrong.
Well, in fact, they’re both wrong. According to Welles, the writer, director, producer, and star of Citizen Kane, “rosebud…represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and also it stood for his mother’s love which Kane never lost.” So, you see, there are three interpretations of the same thing. Still, as there was no further context to provide the artist’s own interpretation, both were left to fill in the blanks themselves.
To break down this conversation further, we can see how Oscar assumed Darryl didn’t know the reference but did recognize a difference of perspective. Being aware of your own views and the perspectives of others is key to finding a middle ground in communicating with others.
Self-awareness makes for excellent communication. Being aware of how you communicate will help shape the way you speak to others. Next time you feel like your message isn’t coming across well, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I provide enough context? – Think of that super vague text message you’ve probably sent at least once in your life. Without the context (or even emotions) behind it, it is effortless for someone else to interpret a million different possibilities of what you meant by it. Don’t assume they know what you’re saying.
- Can I verify the information? – We can jump to conclusions rather quickly, especially when we spot patterns. However, stop to verify the information you take in and the information you are providing to someone else. Jumping to conclusions can lead to stress and possible mistakes.
- Am I assuming too much? – You can’t read minds, and no one can read yours. Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking. Instead, ask about how they see things.
- Am I using labels based on my own perception? – “That test was so easy!” For you. The test was easy for you. The same goes for people. When you label people as easy-going or complicated, it actually shapes the way you communicate with them. Instead, use things like, “I have an easy/difficult time getting along with that person.” These small changes will keep you aware of your own perception and how to better communicate with others.
So, it’s not necessarily that people don’t understand you. It’s that they perceive the information you present differently. Observe others, try to see things from another perspective, and adjust your communication accordingly. This will help mitigate some of those miscommunications and misinterpretations.