Communication is about what they hear, not what you say

If you think you’ve conveyed something but the other person hears something completely different, is that their fault or yours? 

Recently a friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook:

As pithy and humorous as it was, I disagreed. Strongly. From my perspective the onus is on you to consider not just the words coming out of your mouth, but how they are received.

Everyone has their own background and context that they overlay on top of what they hear. It’s our jobs as communicators to consider that perspective and to adjust the way we communicate accordingly. If we do, we stand a better chance of persuading them to agree with our point of view.

For example, let’s say I want to go to a specific dim sum restaurant (yum!) one night, and need to convince my wife that we should go there. Her existing perception of the restaurant will affect the way I approach the conversation:

  • If she’s been there and liked it: “Hey, want to go back to that great dim sum place you liked tonight?”
  • If she’s been there and didn’t like it: “Hey, can we give that dim sum place another chance?”
  • If she’s never been there: “Hey, want to check out a new dim sum place?”

By taking into account her existing perception, I can optimize what I say to increase my chance of her agreeing.

The same principles apply in business. Client calls go better when you consider where they’re coming from, and you’ll build better relationships with team members when you consider their backgrounds and personalities.

On a larger scale, your messages will be better-received if you consider your audience and their perceptions. The larger-scale side of things is hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

As I said at the time, “Not doing so means the outcome suffers, whether that’s something as small as picking the restaurant you want, or as significant as buying your company’s product or believing your party’s political view. If you’re ok with that then that’s fine, but if persuasion is your goal then it’s important.” Good communicators take the time to understand their audience and the key stakeholders in a situation, what they want and how to satisfy their needs.

It’s not easy, but the reality is that your outcomes – at work and at home – will improve if you focus on what people “hear” rather than what you say. If you’re ok with the opposite then that’s fine; if not, then give it a try and see.

What do you think?

 

  • triciacomms

    Try reading Frank Luntz’s ‘Words that work: it’s not what you say. it’s what they hear that counts’ for an expansion on this theme

    • http://davefleet.com/ davefleet

       @triciacomms Thanks for the pointer! 

  • TheDanLevy

    So very true. Well said Dave. 

    • http://davefleet.com/ davefleet

       @TheDanLevy Thanks Dan

  • bhushan_lele

    I think it’s great how you’ve turned a poster into a thoughtful, hard-hitting post on the importance of context and empathy in communication. I enjoyed how you approached the issue here
     
    Bhushan

    • http://davefleet.com/ davefleet

       @bhushan_lele Thanks Bhushan – appreciate it!

  • Shiara Davila Morales

    Agreed.  As a professional communicator, I am cognizant of my responsibility to understand my audience and connect with that audience via customized messaging.  That said, I find it challenging to apply that principle in the social media landscape.  I know how to address stakeholders individually – say through a press release, newsletter or  report – but I’m not entirely certain what voice and/or messaging to use say on Twitter, where my “followers” may be journalists, competitors or consumers.  So, my question to you is how does one effectively use one voice and/or message to address an audience with varied backgrounds? 

  • http://www.jakeoliveronline.com oliver online

    It’s not all the time that people think the way that you do and most of the time people misunderstood what you’re trying to say. So it’s better to keep an open mind

  • http://www.griyamobilkita.com/ prajaniati

    Nice article, thanks for the information.
     
    Anna @ http://griyamobilkita.webs.com

  • yewnoLA

    Up until recently, my natural inclination would have been to agree with the photo above since you can’t please everyone and no matter how hard you may try, something you say can and will be misinterpreted.  Sad to say I was a Comm Studies major in college and felt that that, combined with my extemporaneous speaking style, was validation for almost anything that came out of my mouth.  However, when I entered the “real world” I realized that I may speak well, but I had not mastered the art of communicating with others.  I’m so glad that you posted this, because considering how my words will be perceived by others has been an intentional work in progress.  Kudos.

  • http://cleaningcarpetinlasvegas.com jcjetty

    The only thing I feel needs to be mentioned here that we find the backround and context of the person we are negotiating with by asking questions
     
    Asking questions is absolutly vital in negoitations. It not only helps us empathize with the other party but it also proves that we are listening.
     
    Thanks for the post.
    Jay
    http://www.cleaningcarpetinlasvegas.com

  • http://www.elevatelocal.co.uk/social-media Social media consultant

    I love the picture: “I’m only responsible for what i say, not for what you understand”.
    It made me chuckle 🙂

  • Pingback: On Communication | The Face of the Matter()

  • PAORhetoric

    This is great.  I’m a student and Major in the Army.  My specialty is doing PR for the Army, within the government and to inform the American people.
     
    I moderate a class taught at my organization on effective communication, basically we help people communicate quickly and effectively using the narrative.  The first exercise is to have  student A introduce student B.  The students learn quickly how what they communicate is decoded then delivered back. This is a simple version of what we need to do everyday in business, send a message, the receiver decodes then delivers it on to the next step of your organizational hierarchy.
     
    When the student B’s introduction lacks detail, or important aspects are left out, who’s fault is it?  Its Student A.  Student B was just spitting out what Student A communicated was important to the coversation.
     
    A solution?  Tell a story.  Student A can tell a quick story about himself or his family, stories are memorable and can contain appropriate detail they are also very repeatable.
     
    Command and General Staff College:  The opinions expressed here are my own and not those of my classmates or the US Army. 
     

    • http://davefleet.com/ davefleet

       @PAORhetoric Love this – these are two simple but great techniques. Thanks for sharing!

  • bkoharchick

    I absolutely agree! Talking is words, communication is perceptions. If you want to ensure that the person you’re communicating with is receiving the message, it is your responsibility to convey it in a way they’ll understand. This is crucial in public relations, particularly international relations. When you’re dealing with a different language, make sure the translations are going to create the same effect on both sides!

  • meg_shea

    I agree the statement “I am only responsible for what I Say not for what You understand” is not true. I relate this saying to a time even before people become business executives or PR practitioners.  This statement I believe starts in the classroom between teacher and student. The student often times is unmotivated to enjoy class cause he or she “has” to be there. It is the teacher’s job to engage and relate to the student to effectively communicate the message. A teacher – student relationship can also be related to a business relationship where communication is key to success from both parties.
     

  • Inggridchan

    Yes i agree, Everyone has their own background and context that they overlay on top of what they hear. It’s our jobs as communicators to consider that perspective and to adjust the way we communicate accordingly. It’s based on their field of experience to understand and we as the marketers need to understand the needs of clients

  • yoursocialfans

    When you Buy Facebook Fans the quantity of visitors to your page as properly as your site will increase, enabling you to make greater use of public social networking for increasing income. A growing number of individuals right now use public social networking sites in purchase to link with their friends and family. With an incredible number of customers opening the network each day you have unlimited prospective to present your company, services and goods to prospective customers all over the world.Buy facebook fans at yoursocialfans. reach us to reach you

  • http://www.startupbusinesshub.com/ businessplanhub

    This is such an interesting article and it has really made me think! Peoples perspectives are so varied how can we be sure to cover all eventualities, it’s ok doing it for people we know and love,  but for people we have never met is a different story. I guess we should write for a target audience based upon our articles title to be sure to try and connect with people we are aiming to reach. Good food for thought, thanks for sharing!

  • RegLe

    It’s better to keep an open mind at all times. People often see and experience the exact same situation totally different as we personally do, everyone is different. The best way to communicate with people is to take what they say seriously.
     
    Paul @ http://wlzine.com

  • RegLe

    It’s better to keep an open mind at all times. People often see and experience the exact same situation totally different as we personally do, everyone is different. The best way to communicate with people is to take what they say seriously.
     
    Regina @ http://wlzine.com
     

  • http://www.stanleyrao.us/ mariawilliams672

    Execellent post. it has made me think about people having a different kind of a mind set… for the ones we know its fine but the ones we dont know is one big question.

  • JimmyLalani

    Great Posting.!

  • http://www.jakarta.intercontinental.com tonyguards

    It has taken me ages to discover your site. Finally. This is just the information I was looking for.
    <a href=”http://www.jakarta.intercontinental.com”>Jakarta Hotel</a>

  • http://www.jakarta.intercontinental.com tonyguards

    It has taken me ages to discover your site. Finally. This is just the information I was looking for.
     
    Please visit http://www.jakarta.intercontinental.com

  • http://jocurionline25.com/ jocuri online

    I think you’re right in what you wrote http://jocurionline25.com/jocuri-de-gatit

  • http://jocurionline25.com/ jocuri online

    Involvement in social media I think is a great power to promote more http://jocurionline25.com/jocuri-de-imbracat-fete

  • Becca Bryant

    This is a great perspective. I completely agree with the importance of understanding your audience. To effectively communicate a message it’s necessary  to  look at it from the audience’s point of view in order to know how they will best receive the message. The first step in any PR process is research and I think it plays a valuable role in getting to know your target audience. The message is about the audience  that is trying to be reached, not the presenter. Thanks for the insight!
     
    Becca Bryant
    Writer/Editor
    Platform Magazine (platformmagazine.org)

  • http://eparacord.com Paracord

    It’s important  to keep an open mind at all times. People often see and experience the exact same situation totally different as we personally do, everyone is different. The best way to communicate with people is to take what they say seriously.
    Travis @ http://eparacord.com/

  • http://www.millermei.com/ gia0719

    Excellent article…very good

    Thanks

    Betjai – bwin
    http://www.betjai.com/

  • Thomas Flintrop

    What you have stated is exactly what I am currently learning about in my Business Communication class. The way that things are perceived by the recipient is solely based on how you say it. The tone of your voice and eye contact are key examples of things that people notice when speaking with one another and will help determine how the conversation will proceed. Also, taking into account the other’s persons background, along with their needs or wants, will have an impact as well.