Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Well Meaning

This post is not about meaning well. It's about clearly defining terms you commonly share with your clients or employees. It's about caring enough to assure that others interpret your communication as you intend.

Let me explain what I mean. Take the word empowerment for example. If you ask employees if they feel empowered in the workplace, you will likely get a range of answers - not because the circumstances for the individuals are necessarily different, but because one person's definition of empowerment may not square with another's interpretation. Some may define empowerment as having individual freedom and flexibility to make decisions, while others may regard it as having open access to the vast resources of their employer to get their jobs done. Both are certainly versions of empowerment, but they don't mean the same thing, and the circumstances that may create one form of empowerment do not necessarily facilitate the other.

Collaboration is another example. It comes in all shapes and sizes and unless you're specific about what you mean, the likelihood of miscommunication and misunderstanding with your audiences is high.

Dr. Karl M. Soehnlein (one of my Seton Hall University professors) was kind enough to share a resource that supports this idea. In the book Understanding & Sharing: An Introduction to Speech Communication, by Pearson & Nelson (1994) the authors define communication as "the process of understanding and sharing meaning."

So what are we to do? It's a little ridiculous to try and negotiate the specific meanings of the words we use, but as communication professionals, we must be attuned to our audiences both in terms of how they interpret our meaning and how we process theirs. Whether you're direct or more subtle, make sure you and your clients/employees are on the same page. It won't just show you mean well, it will demonstrate you actually care.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree.

    I've found that with one-to-one communications, many times misunderstandings happen not because one person didn't communicate clearly, but because the two parties hold different meanings of key words used in the discussion. It's one reason why I started asking a simple, one word question whenever I think something could have multiple interpretations - "Meaning...?"

    It's my way of asking the other person to specifically describe how they are defining X to make sure we're both on the same page. It saves a lot of time and frustration, trust me.

    And, of course, if that can happen between two people, it certainly can happen within larger discussions. It requires us to refrain from assuming others know what we mean and trains us to clearly communicate not only our words, but our meaning of said words.




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