How to Avoid Mis-Interpretation

  • Have your emails ever been misconstrued?
  • Is it possible customers misinterpret your marketing message?
  • Has IT misinterpreted your requirements, or you misinterpreted their solutions document?
  • Are you executing correctly against the objectives in your performance plan?
  • Do you really understand what your spouse is asking? (rhetorical)

How accurately are people receiving what you’re trying to say? Proceed with caution when using words…even a simple statement can be disputed.

Take for example the simple sign below: “No Parking After Two-Inch Snowfall.” Patrick C. Heston, in his tongue-in-cheek article “Theology of a City Street Sign” (The Wittenburg Door), points out the many ways this sign could be understood – or misunderstood.

  • Is it a command (“don’t do it”) or a description (“try as you may, you won’t be able to”)?
  • Is it literal snow or could it allude to figurative elements including cocaine or heroin?
  • The sign doesn’t say where the snow must fall – what if it’s in the next country?
  • Does the snow have to fall all at once, or could two or three snowfalls accumulate past two inches?
  • What if some of the snow fell before midnight, and the rest after?
  • What if it snows more than two inches – is it limited to snowfalls of exactly two inches, no more, no less?
  • Does it mean the first snowfall of two inches after the sign goes up, or everyone after that?
  • Does the sign prohibit parking everywhere in the city after snow or just the streets?
  • If you’ve already parked before the snow falls, can you stay parked, because technically, you’re not parking after the two-inch snowfall?
  • Does it mean “after” in the sense of “in the manner of” – so you can’t park the way the snow falls?

You think this sounds silly? If so, perhaps you have never been part of a marketing / IT discussion. Or, perhaps you don’t have a spouse.

Suggestions: Confirm understanding. Get face to face. Look into the eyes of the other. Employ active listening. Write it down, repeat back. Make sure all parties agree on interpretation – using their own words.

One Response

  1. Troy Worman says:

    Excellent post. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication.

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