There is a man I used to play pick-up basketball with years ago. One night, he was playing on the other team and scoring a lot of points. I pulled my team together for a quick huddle and suggested that every time he got the ball, whoever was near would put a double team on him, thus forcing him to pass. The player, upon hearing me, flew into a rage. I asked him what he was mad about. He said, “You told your team to foul me every time I touch the ball!” I told him he misheard me and informed him what I did say. He calmed down a little. Nonetheless, he avoids me to this day. His brain filtered the information, which was not even meant for his ears, to the point that he heard what he expected to hear. I have witnessed this phenomenon more than once, and it always astonishes me when it happens. It is a little crazy to hear what you want to hear, what you expect to hear, instead of what is being said.

Given how unpleasant things can get when communication is off, you might think that people would be careful to avoid any such occurrence.  Unfortunately, the opposite is often true. There are many people whose job is to manipulate you into thinking as they want you to think, believe as they want you to believe, and act as they want you to act. They are paid very well for their skill. Some of the smartest brains in the country are employed in this task, and they use every trick in the psychological playbook to execute their dirty deed. For example, Fox- so called – News manipulates and distorts information to push the viewer to the right wing of the political spectrum. Politicians tell you they are working for you right while they are taking large sums of money from others who do not have your interests at heart. In addition, they are more focused on getting elected then they are in telling you the truth. Then there are the marketers. Their job is to sell you on the idea that things like happiness, love, success, and fulfillment come from acquiring their products. Utter nonsense. It would be laughable if they were not so successful at it.

Even if we are trying to communicate accurately, there is still the problem of knowing what makes for good communication. It is not just being clear from a grammatical point of view; it is not just expressing your opinions or feelings. You have to be able to put yourself in the mind-set of the person you are trying to get through to. For instance, a child is not going to understand what you are saying if you use words beyond his vocabulary, give him a list that he will not be able to remember, or use a concept that is beyond his comprehension. You have to speak in a way that a child can hear. Thus, many a brilliant teacher has failed to reach the student because of this lack of skill.

Another problem that can muck up the works is failure to give the right information. My friend took a trip a while back and relied on the host for information about the place so she would know how to plan. She was told the downtown was 3 miles away, but it was actually 18. What is worse, she was told that the supposed 3 miles was good for biking because it was flat with little traffic. It turned out to be quite hilly with a fair amount of traffic and very narrow roads, to the point that to venture out was dangerous. Her plan had been to do a lot of biking on her vacation and she hauled her bike a long way to be able to do it. Oy.

One of the things I do for my job is to plan sporting events. Miscommunication can create big screw-ups, like having referees show up at the wrong site. I have learned the hard way that information has to be double-checked, in the same way you would edit a paper that you write.

Communication matters. If we paid attention to this, a lot of trouble could be saved, more things would get done, less mistakes would be made, and people would be smarter. We could even come to understand each other better. Life is hard enough already.

Leave a Reply