The communication process is complex. When we are communicating with others, understanding them is not as simple as having good listening skills. We do listen to the words that others are saying. However, we also observe the behaviour of others and interpret their body language. At the same time, we also made an effort to draw references from other’s body language, connect it to what they are actually saying and then read between the lines. I believe that others are also going through the same process to understand us.
Most of us are able to do this well over time with practice. However, there’s something that we often failed to take into account in our communications with others: the ability to convince others of our intentions. It’s interesting to note that despite our best intentions to communicate to others of our intentions through our words and actions, there’s a possibility that others will still misunderstand us.
The reason lies behind a simple fact that while we only have the best intentions when we inform others of our intentions to do something, others usually have numerous interpretations to our actions, and often their considerations goes way beyond the intentions that we have mentioned.
Let’s consider a simple example. A couple Peter and Jane is out to watch a movie. After walking out of the theatre, Peter commented that the movie is lousy. Now, several thoughts might be going through Jane’s mind, such as:
- Is going to the movies a bad idea?
- Is our outing not going well today?
- Is Peter tired of going out with me?
- Is Peter facing some personal issues and hence in a bad mood?
- Is our relationship having some issues?
Do note that this is not an issue specific to gender as it could easily be Peter asking himself the same questions should Jane be the one commenting that the movie is lousy. What I want to highlight is not the person who made the comment but how a simple comment is able to lead to numerous interpretations.
There are two things that Peter should do at this juncture, and any delay in doing so will probably result in a misunderstanding that will lead to increased friction in his relationship with Jane in the near future. So, what are the things that Peter should do?
Firstly, Peter should explain why he said that the movie is lousy. This will clear any doubts that Jane has when she heard his comments. At the same time, it will remove all the assumptions that Jane has regarding his comments. While providing a reason for one’s comments seems a simple enough gesture, it’s interesting to note that some of us never bother to explain. This is especially so when parties are communicating in a hierarchical structure. Teachers communicating to students in the classroom, parents talking to their children at home or supervisors instructing their subordinates in the workplace are good examples. Because we feel that we are in an authoritive position, there’s a tendency to make this mistake of not mentioning about the reasons behind the statements that we make, which is usually a costly mistake. In the absence of reasons, we lost trust, create misunderstandings and ultimately lose the rapport we have with others over time. Yes, it’s that serious.
Besides providing a reason for this remark, Peter should also make an effort to express acceptance both in his speech and body language while ensuring that he is sincere in doing so. Doing so is harder than merely giving a reason. There are no hard and fast rules to showing sincerity, and it’s difficult to describe in words how it’s done. Sincerity is best expressed through body language, and there are several crucial areas that good communicators always take note of. This includes eye contact (maintaining eye contact when communicating), smile (a sincere smile always build rapport with the other party. The challenge lies in showing it) and in this case, the use of proxemics (by staying close to the person, one is showing acceptance rather than rejection. Do refrain from being too close as it might create a sense of discomfort, even for couples in the initial phrase of dating). Peter can also use words to express acceptance, such as making an effort to maintain further contact with Jane by suggesting another date, expressing interest in her well-being etc.
To conclude, I will say that to be good communicators, we should never allow our intentions to be openly interpreted by others. And the only way that we can prevent this from happening is to inform others about our intentions ourselves through our speech and actions with the utmost sincerity.