Semantics Isn’t Conversation
In any conversation, a simple word I choose may have an unexpected effect on you. I have no way of knowing when you have “history” with ordinary words I regularly use.
A word such as curiosity, or money, or gorgeous might trigger a specific and negative response. I’ll have no clue that I’ve touched off feelings, negative feelings. I won’t suspect that one word has changed the tone of my presentation from neutral to negative.
It’s an accident because of something or someone in the past.
Looking for the Wrong Words
What folks encounter negative words it’s easy for them to have negative thoughts. They transfer their experience to the the person who said them, even when the words said aren’t thought of as hurtful, negative, or mean to most people. Communication breaks. Those listeners get distracted in that way.
It’s confusing when folks flinch at something we think is innocuous. We often feel misunderstood and try to explain that we meant no harm. It’s a defensive posture that rarely works. Rather than getting caught in explanation, looking for the tripwire word can be most helpful. If we ask about the message received, we avoid the risk putting our focus on our own intentions, but on the hearing the person who feels something wrong was said.
Here are some ways to bring the focus back to listening — when it seems that we’re getting distracted by words, and not hearing ideas.
- Know what you want the outcome to be That means listening to the people — their tone, their pauses, their enthusiasm level — not just the words they’re saying.
- The fear of negative comments — in person and on our blogs — is over-blown. Allowing people to play with language and to enjoy the conversation can be a conceptual collaboration.
- Giving up the need for control — making room for tangents — can reap great benefits in involvement.
- Look at faces when the eye contact is too intense.
- Notice how your conversation partner sits and moves. Lean into the conversation, literally and figuratively.
- Ask questions about points that interest you. Find many of them.
In other words, let the person talking know you value what he or she is saying. Signal everyone around that person’s importance to all who might be around. Listen actively. In other words, pay attention with the expectation that you will be asked to solve a problem with the very next question.
Conversations sometimes derail over words that we think about differently. When that happens how do you get people to stop listening to words and start hearing ideas?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach says
“When that happens how do you get people to stop listening to words and start hearing ideas?”
You preface your comments by, “I know your mileage may vary, but here’s from where I’m coming – please let me finish my idea and then tell me your reaction.”
If you’re in a formal setting, you can ask the person to repeat back to you just what you said – it’s amazing how many things can be misunderstood by interpretation.
Data points, Barbara
Kurt Scholle says
Does it help to identify and use ‘positive reaction’ keywords by researching what people are looking for in search engines?
If you were to research the words (and variations) you intend to use using a keyword research tool, would that help in determining what words might resonate more with your audience?
How can you determine if a word will have a negative impact? Then how do you select suitable replacements?
Chris Anthony | Lost in Translation says
Kurt, I think negatively-charged words are going to vary from person to person. I’m not sure a search engine is going to help you in one-to-one conversation – in blog posts, perhaps, but even then you have the opportunity to engage a bruised reader one-on-one.
Liz, this is a great post – thank you for writing it. I think the converse is also true: it’s important, when you’ve received a negative reaction from a word, to examine whether you’re reacting to the ideas or the words used to convey them (and the concepts, as well; “you’re fat and lazy” doesn’t generally go over as well as “you’re at risk for cardiac disease and diabetes” :).
You start by saying that we can’t know if a word may be loaded for someone else, positively or negatively.
But we can’t be responsible for the feelings of others. There is absolutely no way anyone can know the emotional value for someone else of any word.
Active listening should always be applied, in personal or business conversations. Active listening will cause the other side to think that you are a most interesting person, even if you never said a word.
It is said that in any conversation the words account for 20% of communication, 80% comes from body language, which of course include facial expression.