Misunderstanding requires just a little effort, and most of us are pretty good at it. Distraction, inattention, and other techniques are widely used and well executed. People are even applying new technologies in their quest to misunderstand. Texting while listening to somebody who's talking, or reading email while on a teleconference are both increasingly popular. There seems to be little anyone could offer to help people become more adept misunderstanders.
But that is so wrong. To really excel at misunderstanding requires more than a little talent and the latest gadgets. To really excel, first master the fundamentals. Only then can you raise your misunderstanding to a high art.
Don't misunderstand me. I don't approve of misunderstanding others, but I believe that by understanding how to do it artfully, we're more likely to notice ourselves engaging in behavior that leads to misunderstandings. And then we're more likely to understand others. Understand?
Here are the fundamentals of misunderstanding as an art form.
- You're exactly like me
- We tend to assume that people do what they do, say what they say, and believe what they believe, for reasons that match what our own reasons would be if we were doing, saying, or believing the same thing. Those with deep character flaws or evil intentions have their own reasons for behaving the way they do, and, of course, we would never do what they do.
- Beware making allowances for anyone else's uniqueness. That only leads to deeper understanding.
- I'm scrupulously objective
- Other people's interpretations of what's happening around them are shaded by their biases, personal agendas, emotions, limited knowledge, and past experiences.
- Always believe that you are objective, and that everyone else is biased or has a hidden agenda that only you can see.
- Every pattern I see is real
- Sometimes people make meaning of the meaningless. They see patterns and connections that don't really apply.
- If you see patterns or connections, don't waffle. When you see something, it's definitely there.
- My worldview is correct
- When Always believe that you are objective,
and that everyone else is biased
or has a hidden agenda that
only you can seesome people are exposed to ideas or events that, if true, would significantly upset their worldview, they block them out in various ways. They don't hear it or they don't see it, and if that fails, they explain it away as trickery or deceit. If necessary they just deny it.
- Whatever you see or hear must fit into your current way of understanding the world, without changing your worldview, no matter how much creativity is required. Use all the powers of your intellect to make things fit. Avoid violence if at all possible.
Most important, since you might get caught misunderstanding, having a plausible explanation at the ready helps smooth things over. If your interpretation is consistent with everything that's been said, you can deflect all responsibility for the misunderstanding onto the other party, because apparently what they said must have been ambiguous. At least, that's my understanding of it. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
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- When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one.
We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal
meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
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- Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that
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the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
- On Badly Written Email
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- How to Listen to Someone Who's Dead Wrong
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can be overpowering. How can we maintain enough self-control to really listen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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