I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communication and the fluidity of language. It’s a basic truth that every word holds a marginally different meaning to each person. But I think too often we assume that the way we define a word is consistent across the board. Well, maybe that’s true of a word’s denotation (ie - the dictionary definition), but it certainly doesn’t take into account the connotation that colors every piece of our vocabulary, sometimes without our own awareness. Add in a person’s tone of voice and body language, and the dictionary definition of what a person says plays a very small role in the actuality of what he/she communicating.
When we become too rigid in our perception of language, we aren’t really being true to the nature of it. Instead of working with the nature of language, we’re working against it. And as a result of this swimming upstream, miscommunication ensues. I can deliver the most eloquent speech known to man, but if my audience has no idea what I’m saying, then what’s the point? If my aim is simply to create a beautiful cadence of syllables and intonation, then I suppose I’ve accomplished my goal. But if I’m aiming for communication with another person, then I missed the mark.
We have to remember to keep our audience in mind and check in with the other person’s interpretation of what’s being said. If it doesn’t match what you’re trying to communicate, approach from a different angle, maybe. Paraphrase; use synonyms, comparisons, metaphors. Try out a different tone of voice. Search for what words seem to hold conflicting definitions between the two of you, and clarify what the term means to you. Abolish assumptions and aim instead for clarity. You shouldn’t need to change the content of what you’re trying to say, just adjust our vocabulary and language to fit the situation.
The thing that baffles me is that the advice in the above paragraph seems to me very basic communication skills. And yet, so often I encounter people who are so convinced of their own, apparently flawless delivery of speech that any miscommunication is deemed the result of error in interpretation. Sure, interpretation plays a large role - someone on the receiving end is equally responsible to actively participate in the communication process. But that’s the issue here. Communication is a two-way street. If you’re not getting your point across, it’s likely just as much of your fault as it is the fault of the other person. Communication is a dynamic process, and it is only successful when both parties are actively engaged and, more importantly, willing to adjust their own perspectives enough to consider the perspective of the other.
Unless of course, you don’t actually want to use your communication as a way to connect with another human being. If that’s the case, then by all means, the rigidity should suit your ambitions well. If not - stop being so convinced of your own rightness and be humble enough to be flexible in your speech. Trust me, you’ll get much further in your goal.