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Asul's avatar

Can people ever understand each other if one speaks something and the other one "interprets" something else?

Asked by Asul (51points) June 11th, 2012

Is it just a matter of good communication skills to avoid misunderstandings?

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15 Answers

Nullo's avatar

Certainly. Fact of the matter is that most of the time, the shared context is sufficient to bridge the gap. Language is built for connecting people in precisely this fashion. Which is why it’s vitally important that everybody in the same group shares the same rules for encoding and decoding messages. If the other end is being deliberately difficult, then the problem is not one of communication but of dissonant values or intentions.

CWOTUS's avatar

Welcome to Fluther.

I’m trying to figure what you really mean by that question.

augustlan's avatar

Misinterpretation is always a risk. Good communication may not be all that is required to avoid it, but it certainly will help. It would be really nice if, when someone feels offended by something another person has said, they first determined if offense was intended before acting on their feelings.

Bill1939's avatar

When sharing a thought, addressing the listener in terms that are relevant is important for the speaker. Understanding another’s reality is difficult and the natural inclination to focus upon one’s own reality leads to miscommunication, unfortunately.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Well, one can be too literate in the understanding of what another person has said. For example, I attended a dance recital yesterday (both my daughter & her middle son were dancing). Her dance was first & his was later. She came to sit with me & her husband after her dance was completed. After my grandson’s dance number, he was leaving to go on a trip to Galveston – so we were going to leave the dance recital at that point. She said she would meet me outside, so I went out front to wait for her (I rode to the dance recital with her). I waited for sometime before she came out. It seems that what she meant was that she would meet me in the Lobby & so she was unable to find me, because I was outside. We did, finally connect, but to me ‘Outside’ meant outside of the building, but for her it meant outside of the actual auditorium – in the Lobby!

josie's avatar

Probably not. And it is the sign of the times we live in. People constantly equivocate because words with meanings established by convention are being assigned a different meaning without convention.
When people talk about rights, they are most likely not talking about a moral perogative at all, they are talking about a favor they got from a politician in exchange for a vote.
When people in the US talk about being forced to do something, they are probably not being forced at all, they are simply confronted with a tough choice.
When government talks about cutting spending, they are really only talking about a smaller increase in spending than they had counted on.

No wonder everybody talks past each other almost as a matter of routine.
Watch the Sunday morning news shows and you will see what I mean.

And I have noticed somethng else in my short life.
It was made clear to me from the start of school that good communication was the resposibility of the transmitter.
Now it seems that many people expect to be understood even if they are incomprehensible.
Oh well. Tough luck for you young children.

kess's avatar

If you both are in argument mode it becomes increasingly impossible, in that mode people usually hear themselves only.

JLeslie's avatar

It is not just good communication skills. We each come with our own past experiences and perspectives and that is a prism or filter we see and hear things through. It also is not only the person receiving the message, it also is the person sending/saying it who has their own frame of reference also.

If you stick around you will see on fluther how much we paraphrase and ask questions about specifically what someone’s intention is with a statement they may have made. We had an entire thread a while back arguing whether caling someone ignorant means the same as calling someone stupid. the word ignorant had been used on another Q, and a lot of people took offense and a lot of us couldn’t understand why it was offensive and we even willingly call ourselves ignorant on certain topics. Total miscommunication of the intent behind calling someone ignorant.

To @josie‘s point, in politics today there seems to be secret code words: state’s rights, cult, government, these are examples of words thrown around a lot lately that half of American defines differently than the other.

linguaphile's avatar

There’s something called positive and negative interpretations. You can positively or neutrally interpret a person’s statement, or in essence, give them an automatic benefit of the doubt that their statements are positive and that there’s no underlying message in what they’re saying.

Or, you can negatively interpret what a person says. When that happens, a negative or malicious context is put on the speaker’s words and it is assumed that they have a underlying message of sarcasm or malicious intent. The listener reacts with defense and, “So you mean this!!” That can totally take the speaker’s message far away from what they intended to say and mean.

Talking to people who often have negative interpretations is tiring—I have to explain myself over and over and defend what I know to be my own intentions. No fun at all.

wundayatta's avatar

We communicate using symbols. Most of these symbols are called words, and words can be represented as sounds or as combinations of letters. In addition, there are graphical symbols and even objects can be used to symbolize things.

Communication involves a number of steps. The person who wants to communicate must first have a thought. This thought must be translated into symbols. The symbols must be conveyed. The other person then needs to perceive the symbols, then translate them into thoughts.

Things can go wrong at every step of the process. You might not think of the right word. You might not spell it correctly or pronounce it properly. The other person might not hear you, or might not read the word properly, and then they might not translate it into thought in the same way that you meant it.

The way we develop vocabularies is that we repeat words over and over in similar contexts. So we say someone is running when they are wearing jogging clothes and shoes and are moving rapidly on their feet. We also say it when they are at the race track or in other racing situations.

We say it when we run. Or when others run, and gradually we work up confidence that when we use this symbol, it is referring to that set of possible actions.

We do this with the ten thousand words we have in ordinary vocabulary, and up to forty thousand words that some people have. Obviously, the more words you use, the greater the chance that someone else is going to be unfamiliar with a word you use, and have to use context to suss it out. They are more likely to get it wrong. However, the greater a vocabulary you have, the more interesting things you can say, because you can be more precise in your meaning.

All this is to say that there is only speaking and interpreting. That’s what understanding is. And of course people can and do understand each other because we are all pretty good at this process.

Are there mistakes? Absolutely! But communication is also about redundancy. We say things over and over in a variety of ways in order to reduce mistakes. A lot of our conversation is about redundancy. It would be interesting to study how much is needed in order to make sure we are clear enough for ordinary conversation.

We have developed some languages that require no redundancy. They are designed to be extremely precise. Every symbol is defined very clearly. Math is one such language.

Other languages are meant to be fuzzy, because there is usefulness to fuzziness and lack of clarity. Many times we need a lack of clarity for good social relationships. And at other times, we need more precision.

But the system works very well. We can understand each other as precisely or as loosely as we want. I think that when we are younger, we probably don’t understand this as well, and many young people hunger for more precision. As we grow older, I think we learn that imprecision can be a big friend. It’s really good for politics and international relations. It prevents many wars. It allows both sides to hear what they want to hear.

Interpretation is what communication is about, and I would argue that that is what understanding is. There is no one to one precise correspondence between thoughts in one person and thoughts in the next person. There is always fuzziness and this is a good thing.

tups's avatar

No. People can probably never really understand each other. We only have one mind, one body, one experience. We’ll never know if someone really understands us. But man, it sure can make us crazy when we feel other people can understand us. That feeling is great. An illusion? Maybe.

CWOTUS's avatar

An ideal communication cycle starts with an origination by one party which is duplicated and then acknowledged (in some way that conveys “understanding has taken place” or “I do not understand, but this is what I think you meant” or “I have no comprehension”) so that the communication can be considered “closed” on that loop. (You could get into an endless loop of “acknowledging acknowledgement”, too, but we tend to call it quits after a single ack. After all, we don’t usually live according to a Monty Python script.)

When the ack of “I understood what you meant you son of a bitch,” occurs, when the attempted communication was “I like you and I want to be your friend”, then obviously some repair needs to be undertaken – and a proper understanding arrived at: “Thank you, yes, let’s be friends” (or “Thank you, but I decline the offer at this time,” when that’s appropriate).

This was an excellent first question, by the way. I’m looking forward to not having to answer “How can I tell if she likes me” from @Asul.

YARNLADY's avatar

It requires a leap of faith. We can not even understand ourselves most of the time, and communication with other people is iffy at best.

mattbrowne's avatar

It takes a whole life to learn to keep this in mind. Developing active listening and paraphrasing skills is very important.

DaphneT's avatar

If one speaks something and the other interprets something else… then one has the faster synapses and one has the greater depth and breadth of knowledge? Or both have the same synaptic reflexes but different depths and breadths of knowledge? Or… the combinations are many.
Communication today is heavily influenced by our knowledge and data sources and these are widening gulfs from community to community. Where we once acknowledged that we didn’t know and were careful how we interacted, now we think we know and interact as if everyone hears the same sound bites about the same subjects at the same time. We are always surprised when communications break down yet our very surety of our side is the usual cause of the breakdown.

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