It’s the *shudder* old myth again!!  Pundits propounding in print about the unimportance of the ‘words’ we use to convey our message.

And yet, here we are – together; me at my place and you at yours and all the gestures and body language in the world is not going to add one iota of specific meaning to my message.  I can shout at my computer screen (and I often do!), at the top of my voice, I can yell with passion and power; or I can seek to create an emotion with whispers and pauses  – but the trouble is that you at your place can neither see or hear me at mine!!

All I have at my command to persuade and convince you of my point of view are my words – and your ability to read and interpret them. 

It sort of makes a mockery of the myth that words are the junior component of our communication doesn’t it?

It is certainly true that really effective communication is easier when we can hear and see the speaker as well as receive the words; but increasingly in the real world of electronic communication we are more and more dependent on just the ‘words’ we use to be understood.

And words are tricky little things – they can mean something entirely different to you than they do to me.  We come to understand the implicit meaning of words through information and emotion.  Information comes through dictionaries, explanations and deduction –  (we can often work out the meaning of an unknown word by looking at it in its context).  But there is the other aspect of interpretation which often flies under the radar; and that is the emotional baggage that comes with the words from our own experiences.

We do it with names as well – if you have met a rather unpleasant man called Fred (my apologies to all the Fred’s out there, but this is in the interest of research you understand) – as I say if you have met a ‘Fred’ who you have come to dislike, everyone you meet from now on who is also named Fred will bring that dislike to mind.  And so strong is the instinctive reaction that it will take a lot of nice ‘Freds’ to overcome that negative response.

That relationship of emotion to name is easy for us to understand, names become a part of who we are – so the person is evoked by the name.  But we are often unaware of how other words can create images and emotions simply because of the relationship to our past experiences.

For instance – do you have a dream to go on a luxury cruise?  Have you got images of balmy tropical nights watching the moon creating a silver pathway from the horizon to your feet?  Sounds absolutely wonderful doesn’t it?

It did to me once, and I grabbed the opportunity with alacrity – but the reality for me was very different. My imagined wonderful weather was in fact stormy and I was dreadfully sea-sick, so much so that I spent the full week in the sick bay on a drip. 

Consequently the word ‘cruise’ brings a far different emotional experience to my mind, and that is going to colour every argument that uses the image of balmy tropical nights on board ship to persuade me.  My reality is far from the imagined reality – or even the reality of those who have had wonderful experiences.

Our interpretation of certain words can also be effected by our cultural heritage – ‘settlers’ = ‘invaders’ and even the society in which we were raised causes automatic association with words.  For many the word ‘Family’ now has a much broader meaning that the one used by traditionalists.

Whatever our experience, our traditions and our culture – while we are engaged in reading the written words we should be aware that we can misunderstand the intention of the message, and even be greatly offended by it,  if we assume that our personal interpretation is exactly what the sender meant. 

Simple solution is  If in doubt clarify

That way we are not left in the dark as to the real intention of the sender, an intention that their body language, their facial expression and even their vocal expression would have made clear if we could see or even hear it.

But with more and more communication being conducted on the purely ‘verbal’ level we might change our first equation –  perhaps we need to know that: –

Verbal minus the Vocal and Visual can equal … war!!!
Michele @ Trischel

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