“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
How often do we talk with someone, go into discussion, trying to prove our point and maybe never realize we were talking about completely different issues?
We’ve all said things that people interpreted much differently than we thought they would. These seemingly benign comments could lead to the awful feeling while the person you talked to did not mean it the way you perceived it.
Verbal slip-ups often occur because we say things without knowledge of the subtle implications they carry. Understanding these implications requires the ability to pick up on the emotions and experiences of other people.
We’re so focused on what we’re going to say next—and how what other people are saying affects us—that we completely lose sight of other people.
In a best-case scenario, somewhere through the conversation or at the end of it you suddenly realize you were talking not about what each of you have in mind! It could be funny, could be vitally important or – after finishing a conversation – each could be left with totally irrelevant conclusion.
Let me share an example taken from the Moscow Conservatorium’s Forum.
Masha Ivanova wrote:
“Yesterday, first time after a long while I was travelling in metro. The whole carriage was full of Tajiks! I was watching them not to let them snatch my handbag.”
Tokyo Symphony Orchestra wrote:
“Yesterday we, as a group, visited Moscow metro. One woman was looking on us sternly and disapproving. Seems like our performance of the Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 was not that perfect”.
The illusion that you accurately understand another person’s intended message based solely on your interpretation of his words, tone and body language is a trap that can hinder your desire to become a truly remarkable communicator. You certainly have an interpretation of what he intended to say, and you never really know if you understand correctly until you confirm it with him. Confirming mutual understanding is the feedback loop often missing in situations that lead to misunderstanding and frustration.
When you develop the ability to check your own understanding of the messages you interpret from what another person says by consciously inserting a feedback loop, you improve the odds of effectively communicating with her. Well phrased confirmation questions can help you do this gracefully and with ease to improve the odds that you get positive replies rather than snarky comebacks.
Here are five ways you can phrase a confirmation question:
- “Let me say back to you what I think you just said, so that I can be sure I understood you correctly…”
- “Please correct me if I am wrong. I understood you to say ________. Is that correct?”
- “If I hear you correctly, you are saying _____________. Is that right?”
- “I hear you saying ____________. Is that right?”
- “It sounds to me like you feel/think ____________. Did I understand you correctly?”
If you look closely at each question, you will see a common thought: if a miscommunication happened, it’s my problem and not the other person’s.
This list is a good place to start your own list of confirmation questions. I suggest that you think of others to add to your communication toolkit so that you can have many of them to pull on when you find yourself in the middle of a high-stakes conversation.