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Implicit Confusion / Explicit Clarity

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Implicit Confusion / Explicit Clarity
Three Strikes and You're Out

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Three Strikes and You’re Out (revisited)

Just as a quick reminder, the “Three Strikes of Communication” are Assumptions, Projections, and Avoidance.  These are the most fundamental ways we take our communication off track, and stopping them is the most foolproof way to improve your communication and your relationships.  For the most part, these Three Strikes show up as a function of the listener.  It’s the listener who makes the assumption that they understand something, that they’ve experienced what the speaker is expressing, and that there is no need to check in for clarification.  Digging a little deeper, we need to look at both the listener’s and the speaker’s contributions.  This is where implicit vs. explicit communication comes into play.

Let’s start by being really clear about our meanings here.  Implicit means “implied, rather than expressly stated.”  When talking about Conscious Communication, we need to remember that we do an enormous amount of interpreting all the time.  Each of us has our own way of looking at words and phrases, based upon our own way of looking at life, and life’s experiences.

It can be hard enough to get someone’s meaning when it is expressly stated.  Our interpretations are always twisting things around.  Imagine a game where the objective is to get a ping pong ball (your idea) to go through a specific hole in a wall of a room (to be interpreted correctly by another person).  There are “wrong” holes all over the room to make the game harder.  When we don’t even consciously aim, but just release a bunch of ping pong balls, hoping one of them might go in the specific hole being hinted at, it’s doubtful we’ll have much success.

We do it anyway, and then get confused.  This is the fate of almost all implicit communication: confusion.  Implicit communication is the speaker’s contribution to “assumption.”  If you know someone is going to interpret what you’re saying through all of their own filters and assumptions, wouldn’t you want to be as clear as possible?  Wouldn’t you want to reduce the number of “wrong holes” the ping pong ball might go in?  This is where you want to be explicit.  You want to be conscious of what you need to convey, and spell it out to the other person or audience, aiming for only being able to take it one way.

This is not to say we’ll nail it every time and you’ll never have a misunderstanding, but by reducing the number of “wrong holes,” you run a much higher chance of being truly understood.  Furthermore, even when there is a misunderstanding, it’ll be far easier to get things back on track, because you’ll have fewer interpretations to sift through.  The more explicit you are, the fewer ways you can be interpreted; it’s just that simple.  In a past article I mentioned the old communication joke: “If you loved me, you’d read my mind.”  This is a familiar form of the “implicit” style of communicating.  You really don’t want to rely on mind-reading.

Acquiescence is not Agreement
One of the most common places I see implicit/explicit communication breakdowns is where people don’t want to rock the boat or cause conflict.  Instead, they’ll communicate in a way that’ll create far more conflict in the long run.  This is a form of avoidance, as it’s avoiding conflict by communicating in a very ambiguous way on purpose.  If I don’t want to commit to something, and I want to avoid “you talking me into it,” or “hurting your feelings,” I could choose to agree without really agreeing, and then back out later. 

How often has this happened to you?  How much angrier or more disappointed were you, than if the person had just told you they didn’t want to “do whatever” in the first place?  The agreement holds an implicit “yes,” when the honest answer was “no.”  Conflict will not be avoided this way.  Conflict will be postponed and made worse this way.  Ignoring a problem and hoping things will just work out is one of the surest ways to make a situation worse.  Explicit communication is one of the surest ways to speed things along and simplify them.

Explicit is not the same thing as “brutally honest.”  The brutal part is unnecessary.  If you want to go to a restaurant that I don’t like, there are many ways of expressing my feelings about this.  The aforementioned acquiescence is a bad idea, as we’ve seen.  It’s only a matter of time until the truth comes out in a more hurtful way.  I need to be explicit, and that includes owning my own experience.  Just because I don’t like the restaurant doesn’t mean it’s a bad restaurant, they’re awful, the food is bad, or any of a hundred things I could say that still don’t speak the simple truth: I didn’t like the place.  My personal opinion is not a fact, and my owning that frees you from having to “defend” your position or the restaurant for that matter.

When I’m explicit, honest, and own my own opinions, communication can be very smooth and easy.  I don’t leave holes for you to fill with assumptions, and you are more likely to get my meaning the first time.  This takes either the leap of faith that you can be explicit without fear, or the wisdom of learning this though experience.  You’ll have a difficult time finding a downside of honest, explicit, responsible, conscious communication.  Being understood is a great step toward taking control of your life and enjoying richer, more productive relationships at home and at work.

Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible?
 Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.

     - Ian J. Blei


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Resource Links:

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Integram (TM) -understanding ourselves, each other, and our relationships

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