Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Communication & The Joys of Written English

I’ve been attending a communication course that’s been looking at the building blocks for how we communicate with each other. One of the first things the course highlighted is how much we rely on non-verbal communication when we’re attempting to understand what someone else it trying to communicate and how difficult this in in the modern world when you’re not dealing with someone face-to-face. For me I found this particularly relevant due to the large number of emails I receive and send every day, and as email is my preferred means of communication (for work anyway!).

One of the examples they used was around this simple phrase;
“I didn’t say he stole the money”.
The meaning of this simple phrase changes entirely depending on the one word you choose to emphasise;
I didn’t say he stole the money - It was someone else who said it
I didn’t say he stole the money – It really was someone else, not me
I didn’t say he stole the money – Was it implied? Did I write it down?
I didn’t say he stole the money – I said someone did it, but not him
I didn’t say he stole the money – Maybe it was his money (he got it from the bank for example)?
I didn’t say he stole the money – not that money, the other money (context)
I didn’t say he stole the money – I said he stole something else
It’s easy to see when it’s put like this how confusing it must be for people who just have the exact words someone is using (without any emphasis) to decide on the message they are trying to get across. To make things slightly more confusing we then discussed how exactly the same message, with the same emphasis, delivered by two different people could be taken multiple ways when the listener takes into account things like the relationship between them and the person talking, the wider context of the discussion, etc.

We didn’t even get as far as to touch on what if someone is not communicating in their first language.

Something to think about the next time you read something in an email …

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