Remember the old game telephone? Why does the message get distorted as it passes from person to person. Different studies show that the average american can say between 100 – 180 words per minute. The extension course at missouri.edu claims the average american speaks at a rate of about 125 words per minute, but we have the mental ability to listen at 400 words per minute. If this is true, how much of that time is spent comprehending what is being said, and how much is delegated to thinking about our next billion dollar venture?
What does a word or phrase really mean?
Let’s take a minute and look at the meaning of a simple sentence and see how many meaning we can interpret. “Are you going to answer the phone?”
A manager standing by the desk of an unaware employee talking to a co-worker about weekend plans, while the phone is ringing. “Are you going to answer the phone” can mean: Are you ready to do your job.
While in a heated discussion with a spouse or significant other, a possible meaning can be: Are you really thinking about answering that when we are in the middle of an argument.
When watching a favorite weekly show with someone, it could mean: Turn that **** **** **** phone off, or hurry up and answer it while it’s a commercial.
Waiting on news from your in-laws about Uncle Charlie’s operation, could mean: You answer the phone, I’m too nervous.
Four examples for such a simple sentence, and another hundred or more possible, understanding the context a sentence is used can be the difference between understanding and poor communication. Another issue, words and phrases having different meanings to different people. Here are some key points to keep in mind while communicating:
- People interpret words and phrases differently
- Adapt to your partner and use the words they speak with
- Pause between sentences to allow time for the meaning to be received
- Beware of control mechanisms used to control conversations
- Pay attention to the tempo of speech
Should we really talk differently to different people?
Absolutely, most people interpret words according to how they use them. The explanation in the dictionary may be different than what the person believes is the meaning of a word. Your example or references may be outside of the other person’s experience, and they may not understand the full depth of what you are talking about. Watch the other person’s reactions as you speak. Ask them questions about what was said, or for an opinion on the same subject to see their level of understanding. Try to have them repeat or explain what they heard in their words, but ask in a tactful way so they do not get the impression their intelligence is being questioned.
Adapt to your partner and use the words they speak with
Listen to the words being used by the people you communicate with. Try to decipher if words or phrases mean same thing to you as they do the other person. If a meaning is different to someone, the message expressed will likely be misunderstood.
Pause between sentences to allow time for the meaning to be received
Allow the person time to understand what was just conveyed to them. If sentences full of facts are muttered one after the other, the person receiving the information will only get a small portion of what has been said.
Beware of control mechanisms used to control conversations
Um’s and ah’s are mechanism used to maintain control while trying to figure out what to say next. By pausing, relinquish control if the other person is ready, and make the point, if still valid, after the other person has had time speak. This will create a more enjoyable interaction as most people would like their chance to be listened to. Remember, most people want to be involved in a conversation, as opposed to being talked at or lectured.
Pay attention to the tempo of speech
Talking fast can make it difficult for some people to understand the content of what is being said. Speaking slowly can allow the other person to become bored and other thoughts will dance in their head. Find a speed that you and the person are both comfortable. Maintaining a proper rhythm will help keep the conversation engaging and enjoyable for everyone involved. If the speed of communication is not in sync, people may become agitated or may wish to end the dialog.
Proper communication takes work, but it’s worth it!
Studies have shown we spend in excess of 70% of our conscious lives communicating with others. Companies have made billions of dollars developing platforms for people to share photos of their cats and tell their friends if they like what they are eating. By understanding how people receive information, we can use simple techniques to understand others and express what is we find important. After all, when we say no pineapple on the pizza, we mean no pineapple!