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Does The Beast Of Communication Terror Live Under Your Tongue? In Your Ears? If So...Let's Shoo Him Away.
Cliff McKenzie

GROUND ZERO PLUS 1179 DAYS,--New York, NY, Saturday, December 4, 2004--Ever feel the terror of knowing you heard one thing said by another but having them tell you that's not what they said or meant, and feeling as though you were in the Twilight Zone, or a bald-faced liar, or that whomever was telling you they didn't say what they said was simply trying to make you look stupid?

One of the great Terrors is that of being "misunderstood"
One of the great Terrors is that of being "misunderstood"

One of the great Terrors is that of being "misunderstood." It happens daily in our personal, business, social, political, parental and economic lives in greater or lesser degrees.

In each and every case, our integrity is at question, for we are either being told or assuming that either we or the "other party" are so off beam that we might not regain our balance.

At work, when we do something or perform some act and then are criticized for either doing it or not doing per what we "think" or "believe" we were told, and the person who communicated the task or job comes to us and stands before our face and stares at us and says: "That's not what I said I wanted," we shrink or we grow angry.

In interpersonal relationships when we say something to someone and they "misunderstand" what we said, we often end up in mortal battle over the "meaning" of what we said, with inferences being hurled like shrapnel from a hand grenade laced with acidic commentaries such as: "You never listen..." Or, "You always want it your way..." Or, "Why can't I be right for a change....that's not what you said.." Or, "I don't care what you said, I know what you meant..."

Communication Terrorism is far more than just a misundrstanding of words between parties
Communication Terrorism is far more than just a misunderstanding of words between parties

Communication Terrorism is far more than just a misunderstanding of words between parties. Communication Terrorism goes to the core of the message and messenger's self worth, for in a dispute, one party commonly surrenders, subordinates to the other with comments such as: "Oh, I'm sorry...I thought..." Or, "I guess I misunderstood what you said..." Or, "Okay, Okay, so I made a mistake. Get over it. I'll do it you're way..."

Some misunderstandings lead to violence when parties refuse to agree that there was a disagreement, or, who have found it easy to use a misunderstood conversation as a tripwire for starting another "emotional war" where the lambasting and denigration of each other is the only source of interpersonal communication.

There is a solution to being Vigilant in communications, but, it is a herculean task for many reasons.

Fragmentation of languages on a global basis might add to "miscommunication" between nations
Fragmentation of languages on a global basis might add to "miscommunication" between nations

First, let's look at the global problem and then reduce it to our personal living rooms.

Worldwide, the more than 6 billion people on this living in more than 200 countries speak in excess of 6,800 known languages. Of these, according to yourdictionary.com, 2,261 have writing systems while the balance are spoken.

But, the fragmentation of languages on a global basis goes deeper than the 6,800 known languages. There are at least 41,000 alternative names and dialects, adding more reasons why there might possibly be "miscommunication" between nations, peoples and even brothers and sisters who live in different areas or sectors where language meaning and customs vary.

Anyone unsure of this need only pick up the phone and call into different parts of America. The East Coaster will find the Southern Belle quite different from the Mid Western or Texas Communicator.

Of course, within America there is additional diversity. In New York City's public school system, for example, of the more than 200 nations represented by the United Nations, children from 198 of those are enrolled in NYC schools. In many homes, the language spoken is the "mother tongue."

There are cultural languages also, broken down often by the sector of the "street" from which a person comes. The accent of a New York East Side Latino may be as much a fingerprint of where that person is from as that of an El Paso Latino.

African American English is often a magnet for misunderstanding
African American English is often a magnet for misunderstanding

An African American speaking ebonics from Brooklyn can well sound like a foreigner to an African American from Portland, Oregon.

So what?

What has the world's miscommunication booby traps have to do with me and my daily life?

The answer is that our "small" daily lives are nothing more than a microcosm of the global community. Even though we "think" we speak the "same" language at home and work and in our local communities, we really don't. We speak "individual dialects" based on what we "think" or "believe" we mean, regardless of what another "hears" or "assumes" or "thinks" he or she has heard.

In other words, almost everything we say to another is subject to revision, editing, alternation, adjustment by their "language" sifter rendering our communication vulnerable to all kinds of deformations.

Not understanding that when words leave our mouths we cannot control how they will be received or whether the person receiving them will understand exactly what we meant by them, is a quick path toward becoming a victim of Communication Terrorism.

Expecting others to understand, respect and act upon your comments, suggestions, ideas or other items of concern in the way you spell it out is like lining your path from the bedroom to the bathroom with land mines and hoping that in the dark when you get up and "have to go" that you'll be able to avoid blowing off your foot.

What seem like simple commands often become boulders, impossible to move
What seem like simple commands often become boulders, impossible to move

But, that's exactly what we do with our spouses, our children, our loved ones. We make comments or express things in hopes the other party will carry them out the way we "expect" them to be done. We don't take into consideration that as we are telling Little Johnny to go clean up his room that in little Johnny's cluttered mind is rattling about an idea he has to beat Pete in Yugioh. We don't pause to wipe the clutter from anyone's mind before we speak, or, as we would a dirty windshield before driving into the bright sun, insure the window is clean before we embark on "telling" someone something or when we "express" our selves.

We toss it out. "Go clean your room." "Did you have a good day?" "Are you happy?" "What should we do this weekend?" "Do your homework right now!"

What seems like simple commands and questions often become rocks and boulders, almost impossible to move. Getting a child to clean his or her room or do their homework isn't just "going to happen" without some nudging, coaxing and even threats. The same holds true with "emotional" communication such as "Are you happy?" or, "Did you have a good day?" or, "What are you doing?" when all the above are so open-ended that the person responding usually just says "fine" to them all.

The person issuing such a question and getting a "brush off" answer commonly starts to sulk or shrink back into a shell, feeling shut out and "victimized" by the other because there is no "desire to communicate."

In the person's mind, the question of: "Are you happy," is loaded with sub questions such as "Do you love me?" "Did you have a good day," often means, "I have nothing worth saying so I will give you an excuse to say nothing back with this meaningless dribble comment.."

S.I. Hayakawa, one of the great aficionados of the art of "miscommunication," defined the problem in personal and business communications. There was the message--what people said--and, the meta message--what people meant.

S. I. Hayakawa defined probems in person and business communications
S. I. Hayakawa defined problems in personal and business communications

"Let's go to lunch," for example could mean everything from: "I don't like you and would never have lunch with you because you're a nobody and I only ask this question to the nobodys I know..." to meaning: "I really like you...in fact I desire you...I want to be with you so much and lunch is just an excuse for opening a long-lasting dialog that will ripen in rich rewards for us both..."

Message and meta-message.

Communication is about fishing. You toss out your line (words) in hopes someone will swallow it whole (understand it as you meant it) but find that the vast majority only nibble (get a little or some) and at the end of the day you're exhausted because you have "few fish" in your bag, or, those you did catch you had to beat over the head with a club.

Often miscommunication can be viewed as action failure
Often miscommunication can be viewed as action failure - the speaker fails to produce the intended effect and/or the hearer can not recognize what the speaker intended

There is a great Fear within us all that we will not be liked or loved by others, and, this is exaggerated when we are not "understood." Sadly, we take the "miscommunication" between one person and another as reinforcement we are truly a "nobody" and that others really "don't care" because if they did they would honor and respect what we say.

If the Beast of Terror has a safe house, it's under our tongues and that little nook in our ears where the hole seems to wend its way to our minds.

What we say and what we hear defines us as people, for they represent our inside to others (what we say or don't say) and our insides to ourselves (what we think or believe people say or think about us). We forget how much of our time is spent in communication--either to ourselves through "thinking" or to others through "speaking."

The average person will speak thousands of words in a day, (many the same words repeated) that include the "uhs","ahs" "whatevers" to the "will you" or "can you" to the "yes" and countless other casual parts of our English language's more than 800,000 total words.

Consider that the average person's vocabulary ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 words, means there is a lot of miscommunication possible. When we think about how many different (varied) meanings a dictionary lists for a particular word--average of three to four--we can multiply 800,000 times three or four and we're in the "millions of chances" to misunderstand another's "message" and "meta message."

Bottom line, how do we resolve this danger of berating ourselves or others for "not caring," "not communicating," "not understanding?"

A quick solution is to have the other person repeat what they said and then for you to restate it such as: "Hey, Joe, if I heard correctly what you were asking of me, you wanted me to do............, is that right?"

Now, Joe can adjust or confirm what he said, and the two of you are on the same relative page, however, the chances of reading the same exact line at the same exact time is virtually impossible unless you're Joe's clone.

A helpful plan is to teach children to repeat what is requested of them
A helpful plan is to teach children to repeat what is requested of them

Regarding children, it's good to teach children to repeat to you what you request of them. It might take little effort at the beginning, but after a while the amount of "errors" in communication will drop because there will be an effort by both parties to build a bridge between the message and meta message so "true communication" can occur.

In emotional terms, it is often best to remove one's self from the center of the conversation and deal with a "what if" third party conversation where the questions and answers are not directed at you or the other person, but to the imaginary "third party." This allows more frankness and honesty to appear, for the discussion isn't "personal" even though it's about personal issues.

We can communicate better when we remember the Beast of Terror hides under our tongues
We can communicate better when we remember the Beast of Terror hides under our tongues

Summary: We all can communicate better with others and ourselves. If we remember the Beast of Terror hides under our tongues and in our ears, we'll be reminded to clean our his lair before we speak and in the process of listening.

And, a Parent of Vigilance is never afraid of words. The ones spoken outside by others or inside by ourselves.

That is the great message that needs to be delivered to our children--that they don't need to listen to the Beast of Terror or let him guide their tongue.


Go To Yesterday's Story: "Protecting The Vigilance Of A Child's Belief"



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