Ever been misunderstood?
Of course, you have. We all have.
We mean to convey one message but the listener hears something different. Suddenly, your boss’s expression changes for the worse, your spouse becomes defensive, or your kid looks genuinely hurt. Whatever they heard, you didn’t mean.
You quickly rewind your mental track to identify the problem, but the message seems clear… to you.
Why didn’t they understand what you meant?
Sounds like an odd answer, but it’s the reason we often get ourselves into trouble in normal conversations. “Meaning” is why other people hear messages differently from what we intended and why conversations often turn crucial.
Meaning changes everything. And if my meaning is different from your meaning, we have a problem.
Communication isn’t just about saying what you mean — it’s about sharing your meaning and listening to the meaning of others so you can really communicate the messages you intend.
How To Share Your Meaning
Imagine each of us carrying around a bucket containing all the meaning we assign the world. No two meanings look the same. My meaning looks different from your meaning because my life has been different than your life.
Because of our individual experiences, we see the world in a unique way.
When we enter into a conversation, we bring our experiences, memories, opinions, knowledge, and perspectives with us… and so does everyone else.
But why does it matter?
Our individualised meaning influences how we interpret our interactions.
Communication works most effectively when we’re willing to share our meaning and understand the meaning of others. It is our job to get as much meaning as possible out of our buckets and into a place where we can all access it.
That’s how we create a pool of shared meaning.
Bigger Pool = Better Results
As people share their ideas, experiences, and opinions, the pool grows.
The bigger the pool, the better the results.
In these environments, people feel heard. Employees are happier AND business improves.
Here’s how it works:
As we understand each other more clearly and gain more information, we make more rational, informed decisions. Plus, the more we share, feel understood, and seek to understand, the more that people buy-in to the solutions proposed.
As we make these more informed decisions, we better our businesses, generate more buy-in, and produce more effective solutions.
Why People Don’t Share
If contributing to the pool of shared meaning is so effective, why don’t we do it more?
Let’s face it: we ALL do a bad job of sharing.
Sometimes, we just don’t feel like sharing… and neither do others. As beneficial as it may seem, in reality we’re not very skilled at getting all that meaning into the pool.
Who is responsible for getting my meaning into the pool?
Who is responsible for getting your meaning into the pool?
Can I make you put your meaning in the pool?
But, I can control the climate I create.
The environment I create and the way I contribute can make it more (or less) likely for you to share.
That’s our window of influence.
We have a huge opportunity to influence the direction of crucial conversations through the climate we create. We may not be able to always say exactly what we mean. The messages we intend won’t always be heard. And as much as we may want to, we can’t force other people to share their meaning with us.
But we can work to create a conversational climate that allows the pool of shared meaning to grow.
Want to get better at this? Ask yourself, “What is the climate that I am individually creating so that others can join us and be their best?”
Each person chooses what they contribute to a crucial conversation. We can’t make people come to the table, but we can create an environment that makes it possible.