by Paula on March 11, 2014

It’s a simple statement isn’t it? “Say what you mean”. After all what else would you say? Why would you intentionally say something different to what you mean? That takes effort to engineer and the person hearing it might misunderstand.

Simple WordsIn fact if the person listening is employing a simple approach they will take what you say at face value and possibly not get your message at all. Or worse, they may be playing their own engineering game and be seeking deeper meaning into the thing you said and end up somewhere completely different to what you intended.

You may be reading that thinking, “What a ridiculous and complicated scenario!” and yet chances are you are involved in it every day without even knowing it.

When we utter a statement it is a simple string of words that have the following attached:-

  • – Our build up of thought that lead to the statement
  • – A lifetime of experience and wisdom that is behind everything we say
  • – A preconceived idea of the mindset of the person hearing it
  • – A choice of words that each have several definitions
  • – Feelings attached that perhaps are known to no-one but ourselves
  • – An expectation of the way this statement will be received

When we hear this simple string of words, we hear it with:-

  • – No knowledge of what was behind it or it’s intention
  • – Our own lifetime of experience and wisdom that affects our interpretations
  • – Feelings related to the person saying it
  • – Feelings related to other things going on for us right now
  • – An instantaneous gut reaction to what’s being said
  • – Our own learned definitions of the words being used

There is nowhere more obvious than the futility of being anything but straightforward and simple when talking to a child.

For example:

Talking to childrenThis morning I said to my son:- “Don’t forget to get your soft toys off my bed when you are making your own bed”.

My intention with this statement was to imply that he should be making his bed now and not carrying on drawing!

What he heard was that WHEN he makes his bed he should get his toys off my bed first. So he said “Ok” and carried on drawing.

I was cross! He was ignoring me!

But no, he was just taking what I said at face value with no seeking hidden meaning. It was clear for me to see as I’ve done this before. I say something with implied intention, he ignores me, I get cross, he is surprised and relays back to me what I asked of him, I realise that I didn’t actually tell him what I wanted at all!

So I said “Can you make your bed now please?” and he did. I said what I meant and he heard what I meant and he did it.

When adults speak to adults it’s not so clear. The instructions are often more complex, the likelihood of us speaking up are lower, and there is little chance of the recipient of the information hearing it so simply. And that’s when complications arise.

So why don’t we say what we mean? There are a number of reasons, you may think of others:

  • – Lack of confidence (feeling uncertain in our right to request of others)
  • – Fear of the person not liking what we say (so making it ambiguous in order that we can side-step it if things get heated)
  • – Not wanting to come across as demanding (trying to dress up our request so it doesn’t look like one)
  • – Assuming you know what the person wants to hear (you’re probably wrong)
  • – Using words that are not simple and clear in order to impress (it just complicates)

Look at your conversations today. How did they go? If you feel someone didn’t react as you’d hoped then look at what you actually said to them. Take away the intention and the suggestion and what you felt you meant. What did you actually say? Perhaps it wasn’t quite as clear as you’d hoped?

If in doubt, try again. It’s REFRESHING to be clear.



Zoe walker March 11, 2014 at 3:20 pm

You are so wise however unable to get my kids to make their beds even if I ask them direct!! Suggestions please :-)

Paula March 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Hi Zoe. Your comment made me smile. I actually wrote and then deleted that with kids once you’ve got the comprehension sorted and they are clear what you want, then you have to repeat ad infinitum until they decide they want to. Either that or a promise to confiscate the thing they are most looking forward to usually works. 😉

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