The Single Biggest Problem in Communication

The Single Biggest Problem in Communication

I’ll never forget the time I checked into a hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand and the attractive Kiwi girl at the front desk asked, “You want sex in your room, right?”

Uhm… No….” I responded, slightly shocked by the offer. I had stayed in lots of hostels around the world and seen some crazy stuff, but I’d never been asked that before.

She gave me a perplexed look. “But you requested sex in your room on the booking.”

I wasn’t sure what was happening. I think I would have remembered that option on a booking form. “No. I just requested a shared room.”

“Yeh, exactly. But do you want four or sex people in the room?”

It was in that moment that I realized what we had on our hands was a linguistic miscommunication. Kiwis say their I’s and E’s a bit differently than this Texan boy. (I’m sure they’d say it’s the correct way.)

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I’m inclined to agree.

We all view the world from a very specific framework that we’ve been building through a lifetime of experiences. We all have different values, unique fears, and diverse perspectives on how the world works. It’s really a wonder that we can communicate at all with all this dissonance going on.

Our unique view of the world causes us to hear what we want to hear. When we hear something that makes us uncomfortable we do our best to cram it into our framework.

But I wonder if we wouldn’t all benefit from assuming we don’t understand. When someone says something, rather than filter it through our framework and just keep reinforcing our own biases, what if we started assuming we don’t understand. I think this would cause us to start making an effort to really ask for clarification from folks. And really, really, really listen. Try to understand what they are saying – not what you think they are saying based on your predetermined framework.

Now, this takes courage. It’s scary to think that there may be a whole other way of viewing the world. It means we might need to adjust some things in our thinking or actions. But I believe it’s the only healthy and truly free way to live. Seek to understand, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

P.S. For the record, this type of communication doesn’t happen on social media. You actually need to go to where there are people who think differently than you and make friends with them face to face. Again, scary, but necessary.