What you hear isn’t always what was said.
Last spring I flew to Cincinnati for a marketing meeting in Columbus, Ohio. I was picked up at the airport in Cincinnati by my colleague, Chris, who lives in Kentucky. I had never been to the Midwest before so Chris spent some time pointing out the highlights of the skyline. He noted the new “Bingo” stadium that is open air and holds 70,000.
Bingo stadium? I had no idea that Cincinnati was the Bingo capital of the world. Wow – 70,000 little old ladies meeting for Bingo! Chris even went on to say that they have $1 beer nights that are great there. I was fascinated. As I blabbed on about my fascination with this, Chris figured out I was on a totally different track and turned to me and said, “Bengal Stadium, Betty, Bengal stadium”. As in football! We had a good laugh, and it became a running joke for the rest of the trip, but this story makes a very important communication point. What we hear isn’t always what was said.
Chris’s southern accent made his “Bengal” sound like “bingo” to me. Even when I repeated it back to him, he didn’t catch that I was talking about something totally different, because “bingo” really does sound like “Bengal” to him!
Here’s another example. My son, Jaron, called on the phone to talk to his dad and my daughter, Kalli, answered. Here’s how the phone conversation went.
Jaron: “Is dad there?”
Kalli: No sound.
After a very long silence, Jaron could hear that Kalli was breathing into the phone.
He asked her, “What are you doing?”
Kalli: “I thought you told me to just stand there.”
This is a family joke now, but it illustrates how easily it is to misunderstand something, especially without visual cues. If that conversation had happened in person, Jaron would have figured out pretty quickly that Kalli misunderstood what he said.
When Chris said “Bingo” Stadium, and that sounded weird to me, I should have clearly asked something like – “Do you mean a Bingo stadium playing cards and numbers being called out?” He would have quickly figured out that I had misunderstood.
Visual cues help as well. 55% of our communication happens without us saying anything at all.
So, here’s my tip of the day:
Pay attention and repeat back what you think you heard. Don’t assume that what you heard really what was said. It can reduce your misunderstandings more than you can imagine. This small can make a big difference in how you understand others and are understood.
Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.
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