Avoiding Misinterpretations

Lesson number: 

Great communication skills can be a key to living a better life. However, misinterpretations can lead to many horrible misunderstandings and lots of stress caused by ruined relationships.

So often when we are speaking with others, regardless of how diligently we are trying to explain something, the person or persons we are speaking with often hears and interprets something totally different from what we intended. I learned this lesson as a business owner during the weekly meetings I held with my salespeople over a twenty year period. I would verbally explain in clear English, the details of a program in which I considered important. Often there were tasks to perform during the upcoming week with deadlines and responsibilities for each participant of the meetings. In the beginning, I required the participants to take their own notes. When we would gather for the next weekly meeting, I was always amazed how twelve people who heard the same exact words coming from my lips heard two or three versions of those same words. After much frustration over this, we began paying one of the participants of our weekly meetings to take notes and send me his notes to be edited. I quickly reviewed them for proper content – and we distributed one version of written meeting minutes to each participant in writing. We thought this would surely solve our problem. However, some individuals still misinterpreted the written words in the minutes, just as they misinterpreted my spoken words.

Misinterpretations are such a common occurrence in our everyday lives, that I thought it deserved a Lesson for discussion. Because I sincerely believe that the majority of the misunderstandings, arguments, fights, wars or any misfortunes we have in all relationships, come from two root causes. The first being our unwillingness to listen carefully and focus entirely on what someone is attempting to explain. Good listening means we can't be daydreaming about something else and only hear every fifth word or so. I am convinced that most individuals just "don't listen" and then get in trouble later. This happens in schools on a daily basis, when a child wasn't paying attention when the teacher gave the homework assignment out. It happens in business meetings every day; in sales presentations in stores; or when getting instructions from someone on any number of issues. It also happens in our family life on a daily basis as members tune out what is being said and then pay the price with misunderstandings and arguments that can play havoc in our lives. Many health problems can be traced to constant stress, caused by misunderstandings and poor relationships with others. I believe if we made a concerted effort toward focusing on exactly what someone is saying, this would be the first step toward eradicating root cause number one of misinterpretations, which causes stress in our lives.

This leads us to root cause number two. If we ARE TRULY LISTENING to what someone is explaining or communicating to us, we surely would not understand everything that was being said. Thus we WOULD HAVE TO ASK QUESTIONS to clarify what we didn't understand. Our unwillingness to ask questions in order to clarify statements, facts, or descriptions of what we are hearing is the second root cause to misinterpretations. If we do not ask questions or ask individuals to repeat or clarify in more detail what they are saying - we are just setting ourselves up for big problems ahead.

To share a practical example of applying these principals, I will share how I applied the crux of this lesson. Several years ago, I took a real estate course in order to get a state Realtor's license. These courses can be quite boring if you don't attend with the right attitude. The content is all about learning thousands of terms and legal definitions and attempting to learn about two hundred pages of state and federal laws. It's not very exciting material. Because I sincerely wanted to learn something beyond just getting a license, I was determined to approach this course with the right attitude. The 21 session, 75 hour course began with around 40 participants and ended with around fifteen. I sat in the first row each session and really tried to absorb what the instructor was saying. It wasn't easy, but I got involved in the class. I constantly bombarded the instructor with questions because I was truly listening and needed clarity on many issues. By staying involved, it also made the time go by faster. It was only by removing the two root causes of misinterpretations I explained above, that I was able to leave the room with some real knowledge and clarity after each session. When it came time to take the tests and state boards, which many complained was unfair or difficult, I hunkered down and prepared myself thoroughly and had little problem passing easily. Listening carefully and asking questions for clarity really works!

In summary, there are great benefits to avoiding misinterpretations and misunderstandings. Less stress, better relationships and ultimately better health. I intend to practice the above principals more often. How about you?

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