TregoED Blog

What’d Ya Think I Said?!!#!@%$@

Life’s Little Conversations….

At home….

Spoken: “Be home right after the dance.”

Heard:  “Great! Dance ends at 11…plenty of time for burgers and visits after…drop friends home first… home by two! No prob!”

At work …

Spoken: “Significant budget cuts are indicated for the coming year.”

Heard:  “‘Significant’…  Great!!!! That lets me off the hook. Who could think my course isn’t ‘significant’?”

            Who among us has not been able to claim either side in one or both of the conversational snippets outlined above?

            Who among us has not had to backpedal, backtrack or, sometimes, backslide in an effort to recover our equilibrium in work or home situations that have escalated into misunderstandings threatening to reach volcanic proportions… simply due to lack of  message clarification?

            One of the most basic tenets about sharing messages between people relies on an understanding of the fundamental “communication cycle”, the critical components being:   propose, interpret, explain, critique   (fruchter




When first introducing this concept to students, often, the emphasis is placed on the initiator of the cycle… and a graphic organizer illustrating this might be seen as a circle rotating among these elements: sender, message, receiver, response.

Whichever of the two models you might resonate to , the obligation of insuring that the message (purpose) is perceived with the same intention by the listener as the sender intended is absolute.

So… to whom does the seminal responsibility belong?

And… even more important… why care?

After decades of teaching speech communication to college students, it is my belief that the responsibility is equally shared.

How can school leaders insure that their messages are being interpreted by their audiences as intended?

By learning how to focus attention on the subtle skills of clarification!

Learning how to pause in one’s information barrage (which is, often… face it…. the way we conduct staff meetings!) is a critical – but too often neglected– sub-skill of successful leaders.

Assuming that a speaker’s message/ intent has been received and interpreted in the same way that the speaker/author intended is both foolish and naive.  

A panoply of filters– ranging from extraneous white noise to listeners’ personal problems– can impede the way that a message has been heard. Remember: listening to what has been said and hearing what has been said are not identical behaviors. One is physical… the other, a combination of sound waves’ travel and brain waves’ interpretation.

Successful leaders learn to insert clarification segments into their meetings and conversations.

Taking time to insure that the message has been heard as it was intended is guaranteed to save not only misunderstandings of a temporary and insignificant nature—but, also, to stave more fractious interactions from torpedoing noble work efforts.

If clarifying questions are not asked after a message (open to multiple levels of interpretation) is delivered, smart and savvy leaders do not hesitate to pose the clarifying questions themselves as rhetorical asides… thereby making sure that the message is “out there”.

So… take time to clarify!

Speaker: “Significant budget cuts are indicated for the coming year.”

Audience:  “‘Significant’…  Great!!!! That lets me off the hook. Who could think my course isn’t ‘significant’?”

Speaker: “Just to be sure we are on the same page… by “significant’, I mean any expense… any expense at all… that appears on a department budget in a dollar amount of over $50.00. Everybody clear about that?”

Audience: “Does that include complete courses?”

Speaker: “Unfortunately, it does.”

While the news finally “heard” by the audience member was not what he/she wanted to hear, clarification allowed the message to be understood at the beginning of the dialog rather than when the exchange had deepened to a more entrenched level.

Now… if only the dance curfew conversation can be moved to a similar level of clarification!!!!!! Teen age curfew violation might be solved before it occurs!