Whether at work or in your personal life, it's quite common to face communication issues arising from too little facts and too much fiction.
It never fails to astound and amuse me the power of one's mind to make up all sorts of interesting stories about situations and people, that are accidentally then accepted as true, which then inform communication and action, and create problems!
The questions today are:
- How often are you communicating from facts alone, versus from the fiction that your mind creates?
- And, if you are communicating partly from a fictional set of information your mind “helpfully” generates, what is that costing you?
It is easy to deal with facts alone when a situation is simple. We probably all agree on that. But, really, when is life ever simple?!
In the workplace and in your personal life, many situations have a level of complexity which leave them ripe for facts to be missed, misinterpreted or distorted, and therefore plenty of room for the mind to step in and make up stories that “help you” deal with what is going on. This then affects how and what you communicate.
Breaking it Down
Something happens. Fact.
Someone says something. Fact.
If you are present, open and genuinely looking for the facts, hopefully you capture those facts.
If not, you miss some or ALL of the facts. Here is where fiction enters…
Your mind is constantly perceiving, filtering and interpreting everything.
When something happens or someone says something, you instantly and automatically filter all that you are perceiving through your unique paradigm. Your paradigm is your mindset, it is your unique model of reality. It is the way you personally view the world, other people and the situation – this paradigm is entirely based on how your mind has been conditioned over your lifetime, including through your upbringing, education and experiences to date, and it includes your beliefs, opinions, fears and expectations.
When your mind perceives something and instantly filters it through your paradigm, you then make interpretations. And here is where things get super interesting! You instantly assess the situation, person, conversation or problem, based on your paradigm, to make sense of what has gone on, or is going on, so that you can then take a position on it, have an opinion about it, make a decision, or take action. For most people, this is happening by default, without any conscious awareness.
Where originally there was simply fact about a situation, person, conversation or problem, now there is an added layer of fiction.
It often starts with thoughts like this…
“I know what they're thinking”
“I know what he's like”
“I bet ________”
“I know why she ________”
“I've seen this before”
“I know how this goes”
These types of thoughts are indicators that the mind is drawing on something other than the facts of the present situation to make an interpretation.
The Danger Zone
The space where most error occurs in understanding a situation, person, conversation or problem before communicating a response, is in the interpretation stage. As your mind perceives, filters and then interprets, it has a way of jumping to conclusions, assumptions, opinions, exaggeration, and adding in information that may not actually be evidenced, and thus creating a fantastic story about what you think is going on versus what is actually going on.
The more unconscious a person is, meaning the less conscious awareness they have of their own mindset and thought patterns, the more potential there is for warped interpretation and fictional layering worthy of an Oscar.
You could argue that making up an interpretation is valid, because ALL of life is an interpretation after all.
We all interpret constantly, based on our unique paradigms. You likely have plenty of evidence of times when you have made up an interpretation of a situation, person or problem, based not on fact but on what you thought because of the past, and things turned out quite well.
You could debate that past events, people's behavioral patterns, and the simple observation and assessment of an intelligent person, allows one to make up a somewhat accurate interpretation.
Nevertheless, in this situation the power to improve communication lies in acknowledging that there is a level of guessing at play when you interpret beyond fact. There are imagined scenarios being analysed. There is a mental construct that is happening in your mind. Note the importance of that… it is happening in your mind, within your model of reality, not within “reality” out there in the world. What your mind tells you is not always true.
And, there is yet another variable at play which can also warp interpretation and thus lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication. You not only interpret based on your embedded paradigm (the lens through which you perceive EVERYTHING in life) but your interpretation is also affected by your mental and emotional state in that precise moment. We tend to lean into certain interpretations when feeling peaceful, at ease, confident, relaxed or in control, and may interpret a completely different way if feeling stressed, frustrated, upset, uncertain, confused or worried.
Misinterpretation Creates Miscommunication & Misunderstanding
All of this means communication can be unconsciously based on fiction, instead of fact. Without awareness, the mind makes communication murky and a heck of a lot more complicated than it needs to be.
Alternatively, if you have awareness, i.e. you actively watch your own mind and observe your own thought patterns, then you start to see how the mind really does enjoy working with life at a level far beyond fact. Sometimes that is fun, creative and powerful, and sometimes it is purely destructive.
When you watch your mind and pay attention to your thought patterns, you can use that higher awareness to provide leadership to your mind. You can instruct your mind to focus on facts, and you can proactively disregard interpretations that you notice may not be helpful or accurate.
Anyone interested in improving their communication skills would benefit from actively watching their mind behavior as a practise, and seeking to be conscious in the interpretation phase of whatever is going on.
Effective communicators are not necessarily those who are educated, intelligent or articulate, nor even those who are practised at delivering messages with flair, but rather those who accurately perceive, filter and interpret facts and then can formulate clear and relevant responses based upon that.
Working & Living with Less Fiction & Drama
If everyone was to set aside their ego, their wants, their opinions, their need to be right, their judgements, their history, their fears, their likes and dislikes of other people, situations and problems, and just look at the facts with more conscious awareness – how much time, effort and energy would we all save?
Next time you are communicating something important, or communicating from within a difficult/complex situation, create a clean starting point by asking yourself:
What is actually fact about this situation, versus what is my ADDED interpretation?
Related Resources for Relationships & Communication
- 5 Tips for Managing Conflict
- 3 Practical Steps to Healing a Broken Relationship
- How to Stop Arguing – Prevent Disagreements from Escalating
- How to Communicate When Frustrated or Angry
- 8 Tips for Dealing with Rude, Toxic People
- How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People
- What to Remember When Someone is Belittling or Condescending