What You Say Isn’t What They Hear

“It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.”

— Karl Popper, Unended Quest

What you say isn’t what you think you said. At least not to whoever’s listening.

Sir Joshua Reynolds - Self-Portrait as a Deaf Man - Google Art Project

As I was stretching for a lunch run yesterday, I overheard some guys on their smoke break from the next office talking about a difficult customer.

“Yeah, that was tough. He was sooo old.” one guy said.


“It took him four times to enter his email address. He didn’t know how to keep his wrist off the touch pad.”

Hard laughter. 

As I listened, I realized that that conversation could easily have been my conversation several years ago, when I worked in computer support. Then, I probably would have laughed just as hard.

But yesterday I didn’t laugh.

Not because the mental image isn’t funny. Not because I’m so different today. Not because I wasn’t a part of the conversation. Not because I didn’t like the guys saying it. Not because I’m older than they are. Or, because of all of those things. I just heard what he said, differently.

And that’s the point. What we say isn’t what other people hear.

They hear our words through the translucent filter of their own perceptions. They hear our words through the lens of their own experience. They hear our words through their own obfuscated opinions. And quite often, they hear what they want to hear.

So if you want to better understand how people are hearing you, watch their body language as you speak. Read their facial expressions. Look at them while you talk, and pause from time to time to listen for their response. In short – take time to listen.

It’s not easy if you’re uncomfortable making eye contact. And although it’s not a perfect science, you’ll get better, over time, at reading other people. And if you can read other people’s reactions better, you’ll communicate better, and you might even have better relationships with the people in your life.

What you say isn’t what they hear.

And what you hear isn’t what they said.

Yesterday’s gift of time … Attended my daughter Tessa’s band concert with our family. I tried to listen.

About Eric Winger

Our perception of time is key to how we use our time. The most fundamental way to change that perception is to give our time. This opens us up to new opportunities and ideas from which we can build to really make a difference. ... Yes, we *do* have time to make a difference!
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