Whenever we observe behaviour, listen to someone speak or gather information, we draw conclusions. If we interpret (conclude) correctly, we are likely to respond reasonably and almost to expectation. If we conclude incorrectly, our response may be negative, undeserved or received in a way we did not envisage, as in when others act aggressively in ‘reasonable’ situations.
This is because our reality is dictated by personal perception and our perception is noticeable through communication, which is the most important tool anyone has at their disposal to interact with others. That’s the way we indicate how we feel about ourselves and our circumstances. It is through communication that we are also judged. People cannot judge us on our perception or intent because that is in our subconscious, which is not visible to the naked eye. But they can easily judge us on our words and actions which demonstrate that perception.
As each of us is unlikely to perceive as another does, often our communication is not as straightforward as we hope. There are two important issues operating there.
The first is that communication always involves interpretation: trying to clarify what is being said to judge whether it aligns with how we feel and perceive and therefore acceptable to us. Without interpreting it in ways we can understand and appreciate, especially if the communication is across cultural and gender lines, it will not be as comfortable, valuable or meaningful to our perception.
Second, because we base our interpretations on individual values, beliefs and experiences, we are likely to interpret incorrectly and against expectation. This of course helps to cause bad feelings all round, especially in status, gender or culture-sensitive situations, where there is some difference or inequality. The only way to avoid such pitfalls is through feedback. A kind of reality check that takes only a few seconds. It takes effort, sensitivity and patience to allow feedback but it is worth the time spent to improve communication, to reduce assumptions, to clarify the issues and reduce conflict.
Good feedback questions could be:
“Did that make sense to you?”
“What did you understand by my statement?”
“What was it about my statement which offended/upset you?”
“Are you happy with my view of the situation?”
“I accept your perception, but have you thought of this approach/alternative?”
Any of those questions will diffuse any potential problem and demonstrate a willingness to be agreeable and empathetic, while eliciting useful information in return.
Effective, accurate communication can be used to either reinforce a positive perception or change a negative one. It is also the key to resolving conflict in relationships, whether spouse to spouse or parent to child, but perceptions have to be recognized before any attempt to move forward.
The bottom line is: You may have the best intentions and a genuine concern for your spouse, your children and your friends, or for the welfare of your employees, but if you do not communicate this in a manner they can understand or appreciate, one that is relevant and meaningful to them, their perceptions may be just the opposite of your intention.
To begin with, one has to identify what each expects to gain from the effort because we communicate expectations to partners and children through tone of voice, facial expressions, touch and posture. These signals are not always clear-cut, especially when written, and can make the situation ambiguous. Our expectations will help or hinder the development of those we care about by influencing their self-perception. For example, a child usually lives up to the expectations of the parents, which then influences the child’s self-esteem. Thus anything we believe about ourselves or someone else does affect our behavior.
If your communication is failing, in that you are not getting the results or outcome that you expected, it could have a lot to do with how you are being perceived by the recipient or how your words and actions are being interpreted by them. There would be a blockage somewhere and only by requesting feedback of what they perceive of you will you be able to identify where the problem might lie or what interpretation is blocking the communication.