Alan Greenspan once said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
To me, the quote describes the biggest issue in communication—written or oral.
An obstacle that’s brought home to me every week with my critique partners. The way critique groups work is pages are shared weekly then participants meet – pre-COVID-19 in person, now via video chat – and discuss what was sent.
Greenspan’s quote becomes reality when we discuss what we’ve sent.
Way too often what my critique partners read is not what I wanted to convey. Sometimes it’s the way I wrote something or the words I chose. Other times it’s a total fail because my critique partners didn’t get what I meant.
It’s no mystery why this happens. Each of us brings a distinct perspective to our critiques. We’re all from unique backgrounds and geographic areas and grew up during different time periods (age span of our members is over thirty years).
Misunderstanding what’s on the page can be the kiss of death for a writer because a reader will stop reading. It’s the reason fiction writers spend hours scrambling for the perfect word and rewriting a sentence a gazillion times to capture the perfect nuance.
Reading an incorrect meaning into words–whether written or spoken–happens too often.
Finding, and using, words—spoken or written—that are mutually understood is critical for effective communication, especially in this tense, trying time with COVID-19 hovering, hurricanes lining up, and important elections on the horizon.
So, let’s disprove Mr. Greenspan’s quote and make what we say, or write, match what we mean to eliminate misunderstanding.
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