What— You Don’t Understand?

Published on June 25, 2000

There are quite a few people who profess they don’t speak foreign languages. Yet all of us have been in a situation where we felt we have clearly communicated our thoughts but might has well have communicated them in another language because the recipient was oblivious to what we said. You understand?

The truth is many times we are speaking in a different language than what the listener is tuned into. It all has to do with how we listen.

Case in Point. I was in Chicago working with a client. After dinner one night on the way back to the hotel, the Marketing Manager complained about the sales force. She just wrote what was in her mind the best memo she ever wrote. And yet she was flabbergasted to find out that the sales force didn’t read it. She just didn’t understand what their problem was. In gentle words, I explained that their problem was her memo. No matter how well we think we have communicated our thoughts, if the communication was not received, then it was a lousy communication.

A communication only becomes successful when it is heard and understood by the intended recipients. On top of that, once they hear what you are saying, they automatically attach their viewpoint as to what they think you really are saying!

Most people only hear what we say rather than listen to what we have to say. Hearing is taking what somebody says and relating it to what you think they are saying. You try to confirm or discount their message based on what you know. Hearing is assumption based.

Listening is hearing what people are saying from the world they are in. In this scenario, you understand what they are saying, why they are saying it and you have the same view of the picture they are looking at. When you truly listen, you do not attach your viewpoints to what others are saying.

You can’t communicate with the audience until you have listened to them. The same goes with influence. How can you influence someone if you don’t understand the world in which they live?
In the above case the manager was clearly not in touch with her audience. If she were, her memo would have been read. Maybe it was a topic of no interest to the salespeople. Maybe it was too long. Whatever the case, it wasn’t read. The problem was not the salespeople. Her problem was she did not know how to relate to them.

Do yourself a favor and understand your audience. If you don’t, then ask questions first. Otherwise, there is a good chance the audience will be looking at you as if you were speaking a foreign language.

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