Do you hear what I hear? I am scheduling a hearing test because I am missing things that people say. Some might think it is because I am ignoring them or that I only hear what I want to hear but I want confirmation from an audiologist. If there is a medical problem, I will follow the recommendations of cleaning or aids.
When we are listening to the same conversation, I wonder if you are hearing the same thing that I am hearing. Are your biases similar enough to mine that you interpret the words and sentences to confirm or deny the thesis? Are the sum total of your experiences, intimate or global, prejudicing you against an individual or group of people? Do you hear wisdom from those you think to be wise and foolishness from those you judge as fools?Hearing is different than listening. I open my hears and listen but once it makes it past the canal hearing sets in and my brain translates the clicks and dits into meaning. Even when the subject is simple the process of hearing can be difficult. We only understand a small portion of what is happening when oral communication takes place, especially when we are involved.
Interpretation takes on a higher level of sophistication when intonation, subjectivity and sarcasm are tossed in the mix. When I was working in theatre we used an exercise called “The Seven Words” to help actors react to what they were hearing, both as improv and scripted. The seven words we used were “I didn’t say I kissed my wife.”
Try saying the words out loud a few times changing the emphasis on words or pairs of words. I DIDN”T say I kissed my wife. I didn’t say I KISSED my WIFE. I didn’t SAY I kissed My wife. We discovered 37 different possible and distinct meanings without changing the order of the words. Somehow we are attuned to the nuance of intonation from an early age and can easily and usually get the gist of the sentence. (Aside : imagine the same seven words in an email and now the interpretation struggles to convert linear into dynamic through the reader’s lens rather than the writer’s). Is there any wonder that miscommunication occurs when we are rushed, distracted or tense. Our rhythm and sense of pace jumbles the information either as the speaker or hearer and conflict can arise.
If my vocal quality or volume change, intentionally or accidentally, it can impact how you hear what I say and how you react to the same words and same intonation. If I whisper ” I didn’t say I kissed MY wife” or raise my voice and say ” I didn’t say I kissed MY wife” the hearer will include secrecy, resentment, anger … into the decoding of the message.
In face to face conversations, even when we are both alert, content and ready the reality that oral conversation also relies on body and facial language complicates understanding. If I say ” I understand” but my face and posture say “you’re wrong” you are more likely to decipher the contradiction using the non-verbal cues. I think I am agreeing and you feel dissed. If I assume a high status posture with arms crossed towering over you, there is nothing romantic or compassionate that I can utter that will ring true for you.
History adds another dimension. If you and I share a past with intricate backstories and intrigue we develop shorthand verbal skills that only work for us. If a third person is part of the discussion or observing it, they will miss the subtlety and ‘inside’ suggestions. We might ‘get it’ but now the confusion expands to someone else who has different biases, experiences, circumstances, and tendencies. The circle of complexity grows if the additional participants have a contrarian nature or is a people pleaser.
In some ways it is hard to imagine that we ever understand each other even when all the auditory equipment is functioning at it’s best. When any deterioration occurs and the hearer is now parsing every second or third word into a coherent sentence the probability of getting all the other signals cross is almost assured. I can do my best to say what I want heard in as clear and concise a way as possible. I can take personal responsibility for listening and hearing (and asking for clarification) and I can do what I need to do to maintain my auditory system pathway. I will make the call on Monday morning to book an appointment.