Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Communication is a tool that has the power to be your best friend or worst enemy. So often we fail to really say what we mean to communicate. Poor word choices, spoken in the wrong order, with inappropriate contexts, can get us into trouble. We need to be careful when we choose our words but often we simply aren’t.

A foundational concept in the study of communications explains how this happens. In the most basic of models there is the sender and the receiver. There is encoding of the message from the sender and the decoding of the receiver – with an inevitable amount of “noise” that occurs between the two entities. This noise can be caused by a number of reasons that include literal, physiological or psychological factors which contribute to how someone understands and digests the message they hear.

I often introduce my students to an interesting set of precepts put forward by an influential Finnish communications theorist named Osmo Antero Wiio. He asserted that there are three central truths that we should all keep in mind when we communicate:

  1. Communication usually fails, except by accident.
  2. If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes damage.
  3. There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant by your message.

 

The main takeaways from Wiio’s theories are incredibly insightful:

  • The truth is communication usually fails. Even good communicators need a variety of factors to occur for the intended message to be perfectly absorbed by an audience.
  • When you communicate an idea, particularly to a group of people, your audience is going to take the path of least resistance. People will interpret your words the way they want to interpret them.
  • The power of a message is centralized in the listener, not the speaker – and if you fail to convey what you’re actually trying to convey, then you weaken your call to action.

 

The importance of a carefully crafted message is so important. The words you choose, the tone, inflection, etc are all considered a part of that communication package that is headed to the receiver.

Mr. Mark Twain once said, “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Ultimately we all want to sound clear, definitive, and sure of ourselves.   If you want people to believe in you and in what you say, speaking clearly and with conviction is a good place to start.

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