You’re Not Hearing What I Said

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Communication – making sure that the recipient of your message heard what you intended to say – can be very challenging.  Getting it right can be critical to personal and business relationships. 

Deborah Tannen tried to help couples deal with that in her book You Just Don’t Understand – Women and Men in Conversation.  As a presentation advisor (for Presentation Excellence), we try to get presenters to understand that if the audience doesn’t get the value of the nuances of your presentation, you may not win the deal. The key is to understand that we don’t all think the same way; all too often we base the presentation on our mindset (Remember, it’s our data and facts, as well as our emotions that shape our mindset) rather than the other person’s. As a result, especially under stress, we tend to speak TO and not WITH each other. (That’s why we help clients deliver an Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation (ADAP).)

The importance of this issue is demonstrated in an article by Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist, who observed miscommunications between people talking to their parents during the stressful 2020 pandemic (e.g., life and death as well as new norms for social distancing, lockdown, etc.). In his article, Why It’s So Hard to Talk to Your Parents About the Coronavirus (and vice versa), he shares conversations with children and parents at different ages which he calls 40ish, 60ish and 80ish, and shows how even “simple language” can be misinterpreted.

For instance, when a 40ish speaker says: “Why would you go to the grocery store?”, the speaker really means “I’m worried about your safety; I care about you and want you to live”. What the 60ish listener hears is “You’re much older and vulnerable than you think and this is an irresponsible act.” In other words, the goal of expressing caring-concern is interpreted as a negative comment to which he responds defensively.  Similarly, when the 80ish speaker says “I’m going to see some friends from my card group”, he really means “I need to enjoy the years that are left to me.” What a 60ish listener hears is “I’m oblivious to the dangers of this virus”

Dr. Agronin’s conclusion is that we need to better communicate our fears, needs and strengths to one another in a way that they will understand your real intention. Put aside your agenda, commit yourself to learning their mindset by asking questions. Then when you finally communicate your message, have the recipient share what they heard, so you can verify; and if it’s not what you meant, then take the time to restate it and get feedback until you both understand what the original message was intended to say.

When it comes to presentations, the same is true: understand the (stressful) context in which you’re speaking; learn about the audience’s mindset so you can address their fears and needs. Don’t lecture (talk at) the audience); engage in a conversation by asking questions and encouraging their questions. This two-way communication at a presentation allows you to verify that your intended message was the one received! 

Questions? Share them with us so we can help you communicate more effectively.