Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Words Have Meanings

Have you ever noticed that the same word can generate very different reactions from different people? Every person has their own lens through which they view the world. It is crafted from their personal preferences, the time and culture in which they were raised, and their personal life experiences. We can study personality type, generations theory, active listening, and coaching, but the fact of the matter is, at some point, a communication disconnect will arise because one person uses a word in a conversation that has completely different meanings
or connotations to the two people involved. While this may seem easy to fix by looking the word up in the dictionary to find out who is right, I feel this only deepens the defensive positions of the two individuals involved in the potential conflict.

This happened to me last week when a friend and colleague said she was trying to break through my righteous barrier. Through my lens, regardless of whether I am right or wrong, this was a very offensive insult. My gut reaction was honestly to get up and walk out of the meeting, but I didn't. At the time I knew that I was having an emotional reaction and my friend was explaining her coaching process with a word that meant no more than pushing past the stock answers and going deeper. Did that make it hurt me any less? Nope, I still get that sucker punch feeling four days later just thinking about it. However, I am sincerely glad that I didn't let an emotional reaction ruin a friendship and working relationship over something as small as the meaning of a word.

So what is the point here? Learn to recognize when you are attaching meanings to words in a conversation and when you are inferring something (especially an attitude or judgment) that may not be there. If you aren't sure what a person means, ask them for clarification rather than reacting emotionally. Try not to let the clarification devolve into a who is right and who is wrong about the definition of the word, instead focus on arriving at a common understanding.