Here, we discuss how we can put a message together so that it is tailored for the audience (one or more people) and enable them to understand our message clearly.
You may have heard the expression “The Map is Not the Territory”. This basically means that everyone you encounter has their own map of reality and judges the meaning of everything they experience through looking at that map. The street map they hold in their hand is only a typical representation of the area it covers.
The same is true in their minds. We have to acknowledge that the other person’s (or people) view of what we say will never be an accurate rendition of our meaning. They will always interpret it after it is filtered through many layers of interpretation, belief, values, conditioning and many other things that makes them the person they are.
So, if that’s the case, what can you do?
Firstly, outline the purpose and intention of what you are wanting to put across. The purpose is the reason you are communicating. The intention is the result you are hoping to achieve. There are obvious crossovers between the two, but there are also differences. Your purpose might be to get the other person to understand a particular process, and your intention might be that they are able to actually go away from the discussion and put the process into action.
Remember that the other person(s) might be in a different ‘state’ to you, and the filters they are using may distort the real meaning behind your purpose or intention. Clarify your intent with them and highlight how you would like things to change or what you would like to see as a result of the conversation. That way, you bring your meaning and their understanding closer together.
And that’s the third area of communication that you need to check out: the meaning they have gained from the interaction.
The meaning is simply the message the other(s) have received from you. Simply asking, “Do you understand?” is not enough. The other person will filter the message through and determine if they understand their interpretation of the message. If yes, they will say they understand. This doesn’t mean they have the correct interpretation or understanding; just their own way of looking at it. Their map may not match yours!
Get them to explain the meaning of the conversation back to you, or the actions they will take as a result of the discussions. That way, you get a clearer picture of how they see things.
Recall the story of five blind men who come across an elephant and have to explain what it is to each other. As each person touches a different part of the animal (trunk, leg, tail, tusk, ear), they tell a different story of what they interpret the elephant to be.
The same would be true if you asked the other person for their rationale on what you have just discussed. By asking, you get their meaning and can determine if it is exactly as you meant it to be.
Remember Purpose, Intention and Meaning. These three will help you prepare your message beforehand and take you along the route to correct interpretation.