There’s so much more to communication than speaking well, as important as that is!
When you first learn a foreign language, you usually learn one word in the other language to correspond with an English word. Gracias means thank you. But as you become more immersed in the language, you learn that there are multiple ways to translate certain ideas, and not any real translations for other concepts. It’s tricky to translate to procrastinate into Spanish, because that concept is not as commonly used in Spanish-speaking cultures. Or you learn that the Spanish ahorita, can mean right now, or as soon as I can get to it, or at some point.
And then to really get the message, you see that messages have at least 2 meanings: a content meaning and a relational meaning. It’s in the second layer of meaning — the relationship builder (or not) — where your interpretation has real potential to move you forward.
When it comes to figuring how what messages and situations really mean, you have room to choose how you interpret what’s going on around you and much of how you feel as a result of that interpretation.
This is certainly not an original thought. Victor Frankl wrote about this theme in relationship to his experience in the Holocaust as he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning. But for years I thought that kind of power was for people like him, not for people like you and me.
Here’s a recent example of the impact of your own interpretation. It’s more powerful than you know. And the real kicker is that you can see meaning that other people may be unaware of.
For example, a fussy two-year-old needs a nap. That’s obvious to you, not to the toddler. A cranky colleague may need some encouragement, that obvious to you, not to her.
Let’s say you have a meeting with some colleagues and one of them has not prepared what he was supposed to for this meeting. Instead, he offers some lame excuse, saying he thought his part wasn’t due until the next week.
Here are some possible thoughts that come to mind:
1. What a loser that person is, so irresponsible!
2. Obviously he does not value my leadership, what’s wrong with me?
3. Thank you not rushing through your part of the project.
4. How am I going to explain this to my boss?
5. If I were competent, he would have been prepared.
6. Something terrible must have happened to him since our last meeting
7. He’s obviously not suitable for his job.
8. I hate it when people disrespect me like this.
9. This means I need to look at this project from a fresh perspective.
Real winners look for opportunity in every situation. Of these 9 possible interpretations, the only ones that are positive are #3 and #9.
But here’s the kicker. How do these interpretations (aka "conclusions") make you feel and how do you act as a result?
That’s the value of choosing your interpretation; it’s also choosing how you feel.
Your thoughts shape your feelings, which shape your actions, which shape your results. What helps you interpret messages from a winner’s point of view?