Lost in interpretation

As a communication person, it appals me to observe how much is really lost in interpretation. Forget being lost in translation, two people may be speaking the same language and sitting a few feet from each other but the essence of the message is lost between sender and receiver, so very often.

Over the recent past, more than once have I observed people being mis-interpreted grossly. Stephen Covey in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective people points out that one should seek to understand, then to be understood. I can’t agree more. While this is by no means a ‘researched’ essay, this is one copywriter’s take on the root causes of misinterpretation.

The recipient isn’t listening: Listening has become harder today. We are way too stressed and we have way too many distractions. Some of us are lost in thought, trying to solve the next set of problems while being half tuned into what’s being discussed in front of us. Others are distracted, fiddling on our phones, SMSing, texting or tweeting people. Often we just listen to the beginning of the message and fill in the rest of the gaps as we tune out. In a world that is constantly multi-tasking, trying to focus on just one thing at a time is now next to impossible.

Emotional baggage: The message is never interpreted for face value and never exists in vacuum. Everybody adds their own emotional baggage to it. These perceptual filters warp what is being said for the receiver. Often a harmless or factual message takes on an all new meaning.

Credentials count: If you are a junior and talking to a senior, perceived experience becomes a stumbling block. For the senior, accepting something out of the ordinary may be difficult, especially from a junior. Accepting change in any form is always a hurdle, being open and grasping new ideas is no different. The guise of expertise often makes new ideas palatable. However, these so called new ideas churned out by the experts are often rehashes of old ideas and not ground breaking at all. But remember once upon a time man believed the earth was flat. Today you don’t need an expert to tell you that it isn’t. But somebody dared to think different, but he probably wasn’t heard the first time around.

You aren’t on the same page: On the other hand a senior may have little patience to listen to a junior espouse something that is apparently flawed fundamentally. Equal understanding of the concepts is an ideal scenario and an utopian dream. The trick is, if this understanding isn’t available, to bridge a common ground using analogies. One must remember however that new ideas are most forthcoming from the lower rungs of the ladder and it is the role of seniors to guide these ideas into practical fruition.

Geographical barriers: Even if you speak the same language, cultural difference do affect the message being communicated. Cultural differences could be across continents or even at home. In a country like India that is a melting pot of different cultures, it is no wonder that this acts as another filter in interpretation.

Emotions: Let’s face it the emotional state of the sender and the receiver causes the outcome of the interpretation of the message to be as good as Russian Roulette.