The Imperfection of Communication: Part 3

So What Does It All Mean?

I've tracked your comments to last week’s post with interest.  When asked what you thought of, felt, or saw when presented with the word "cat" each of you did exactly what I expected.  You saw something different!

In corporate training, communication is one of my favorite topics to teach.  Mainly because we spend every moment of the day communicating whether we mean to or not.

I do the cat exercise in my training classes to show people how different our perceptions can be.  The different responses amaze participants and serve as a great reminder that, even face-to-face, we need to be clear and specific in our communication.  The activity, also, allows people to recognize that misunderstanding each other is part of life.  It's not going away.

You might think a simple word like cat would not create a gap in communication but consider the variety of responses:

I usually see a large cat!
What you told me you saw:
  • Sandy-colored short hair
  • Striped cat
  • Stripey-faced, mini-tiger cat with a "cat" smile
  • Tabby kitten
  • Halloween cat
  • Algae eyes blinking from underneath the furniture
  • 17 pound smokey domestic longhair
  • Ginger and white cat
What you thought:
  • Allergies--misery, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, (one person ended up in the hospital)
  • Adorable
  • Egyptian regard for cats
  • The devil
  • Sneaky and scares my dog
  • Cleaning up behind them, not favorably
  • Cats that help you type/write
  • Catharsis - because this person didn't like cats

Oh and my personal favorite:  by day-angelic, by night-chases the German Shepherd

I did have one person who thought I was kidding about the whole thing.  It was a tongue-in-cheek kind of post, but I'm  serious about the issues of miscommunication and dealing with them.

Another person didn't like cats so felt they weren't qualified to respond with anything.  I didn't say you had to like cats to participate, but that was this person's interpretation.

So, there you have it.  One three letter word and a multitude of responses, proving that we carry our own baggage into the interpretation window of our mind.

The moral of this little exercise?  Try to be clear in your communication, check that your listeners/readers understand your meaning, and accept that people will see things differently than you do!


I will be participating in the Rule of 3 blogfest during the month of October. Each Wednesday, I will post a portion of a story set in the ficitonal town of Renaissance.  Please drop by on Wednesdays and enjoy the story through the end of October.


Chris Evers said…
Definitely allergies :-) ...maybe cute too
Sherry Isaac said…
Hello Barbara,

I'm a Torontonian, currently sitting in blog partner Carole St-Laurent's back yard in South Carolina, extending my summer. And, waving hello from Campaign.

You are so right about interpretations, our personal experiences are individual and varied, and I find this so intriguing not only as a reader, but also as a writer. Recall the first challenge? Even in our 3-author blog, Carole, Sharon and I had very different takes on 'The door swung open...', never mind all the version that showed up on the campaign!

For me, cat took on new meanings this past year when I visited a lion refuge in South Africa. I bottle fed baby lions, but also witnessed the ferociousness as young lions attacked their dinner, and felt fear reverberate from the ground as the roars of ten lionesses responded to their king's roar.

I'll come by again, and hope you'll visit us on Romance & Beyond. Good luck with the campaign.
A Kwee Life said…
Hi, I came back by to thank you for visiting my writing, but got distracted by this. I still thank you :-) and this is really neat. I've never done such a directed exercise. But, having worked for many years as a technical writer, a Cub and Boy Scout leader, Mom, and countless/varied relationships, I realized how our own experiences (baggage) influence and work as a framework for how we interpret or comprehend the input we are receiving. In my writing, I like to use that. I enjoy giving detail to make the story/characters, but at the same time leaving enough "gaps" so that the reader can "read themselves into it" so to speak. Have I said that clearly? I've never really tried to articulate my intention in this aspect of writing so exactly before. I'm glad I saw your post on this. Thank you.
Sherry, Thanks for dropping by. As you now know, I'm already a reader of Romance & Beyond. I enjoyed meeting you at dinner the other night. Stay in touch!

Kwee - or whatever your name is - thanks for getting wrapped up in my blog experiment. I'm glad to have distracted you in a good way.

Popular posts from this blog

Skin Tone: Describing Your Characters

Character Development: Using the Johari Window

Should Christians Watch The Hunger Games?