Our Dictionary of Understanding

Even if we all spoke the same language, say English just for this example, we would often find ourselves still struggling to make others understand the meaning behind our words. And it’s for one reason- we all have different ways of interpreting someone else’s words.

Before I dive right into it let me give you a quick example:

A man is sitting aboard a plane and as the stewardess comes by she asks if he’d like some more coffee. To reply the man says “I’ll take a little more.” For a brief moment the man sees a delay in understanding flash in her eyes. Then she picks up the coffee cup and fills it.

Didn’t seem like much, did it? The man asked for more coffee and he got it, right? Well yes, but there’s a bit more to this short exchange if you care to look closer. The short moment where the stewardess paused before filling his cup does not come from her lack of understanding the English language. Rather it can be derived from all the experiences of her communication with others throughout her life. The way she has most often been spoken too, combined with the way she most frequently would reply is what has become her own personal dictionary of understanding.

The woman, being a stewardess, finds herself in a bit of a “have to get it done” mindset. And this mindset is only because of her occupation, she could have several other factors in her past experiences that have also shaped her dictionary of understanding. But, being in this mindset she had to take that extra moment to understand because she is used to getting short responses. “More coffee?” “Yes.” “More coffee?” “No.”

And so when she receives an answer from a man who has a more laid-back dictionary of understanding it leads to the short pause. Perhaps where he came from people find themselves adding more words than necessary to give an answer to someone. Therefor he answered with “I’ll take a little bit more.” Instead of just saying yes. And he did it because it’s natural for him to do so. His past experiences in communication has made his dictionary believe people appreciate when you speak a few more words to them when replying.

I am not saying one of these forms of communication is better than another. At least, not one of the two I mentioned above. I am telling you that people have different levels of understanding because their experiences have led them to it. Your personal dictionary may find you being short and straight to the point with most people you speak to. Your friend might babble on for hours after you ask him how his dinner was. He’s found that he needs to go into more detail when explaining something in order for him to give a satisfactory answer. You, have had more success being brief and straightforward in your conversations.

Now, of course, there are exceptions to my guide of understanding. You may find yourself talking in more detail to one type of person over another. And you’ll very likely find yourself talking differently to your partner than you would a stranger. The point is -in general- different people have different ways of communicating to others because of their past successes and failures in gaining understanding with others. So hey, go on out there and talk to someone, see if you notice it.

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