Tightening the Miscommunication Gap

We eagerly communicate with each other by using our personal understanding of a terminology before taking into consideration our audience’s understanding.

communicate and teamwork, working together

We do this all the time with language. In the book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis speaks to the evolving definition of the word gentlemen:

The word gentlemen originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone ‘a gentleman’ you were not paying them a compliment, but merely stating a fact. A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result gentleman is now a useless word.

I was recently at a meeting with members of several Michigan-based companies and schools, and over the course of a few hours, there were several moments when I had to request a definition in order to stay in the conversation – context clues were not enough! And these were people who, in general, communicate in the same circles as I do. Imagine how our listeners beyond our personal and professional circles struggle!

Some young men in our company wanted some advice on how to explain "professional attire" to the young women working in their offices. When I said to ask them to dress nicely in dress pants and a blouse, they didn’t know what a blouse was! Sure they knew it was a shirt, but they couldn’t have chosen one from a pile of turtlenecks and crew knits. That’s a gender-specific AND generational term misunderstanding.

As an elementary school student I remember arguing the difference between supper and dinner and what we should technically refer to our evening meal as. That’s a menial dilemma, but what if I were speaking to someone about what we were eating for dinner and the whole time she thought I meant our noon meal instead of our evening one?

We must keep these things in mind as we consider our audience. Whether it’s a casual conversation at work, speaking to a group of students as a potential employer, or discussing how to build a resume with an advisor outside of our own generation or field of expertise, we must ask ourselves:

"Do the terms that I am using correspond with who I am speaking with or to? Will I lose my audience because I am using exclusive terminology?"

When we do this, we will tighten the miscommunication gap and enhance the understanding of our audience.