Monday, March 9, 2009

Menagerie Lion

I was working on a project today and came across something funny a kid answered on a test. According to this child, the equator is "A menagerie lion running around the earth through Africa". This is hilarious of course, but it points out a problem many of us have experienced but I have rarely seen discussed. Now I honestly hope that kid got credit for that answer. I have a fairly significant hearing loss and can totally relate to misheard words. For years I thought the song "All by Myself" by Eric Carmen was "Hop on my Sled".

How often do we assume that others understand what we mean? Not just that they hear us, but that they understand us? I have a couple of friends in a group I belong to for whom English is a second language. One time I teased one of them about a "sick" joke and he took offense. I wrongly assumed he would get my humor and it ended up hurting his feelings.

I am not necessarily advising you to tiptoe around, but to make a real effort to be cognizant of whom your audience is, whether that is in speaking or writing. When speaking, ask for clarification by offering the other person the chance to comment on what you said. Obviously if the teacher had asked that child what he thought about the equator and he started talking about a lion figurine running around Africa, she would have had an idea he wasn't getting the whole picture. If I had thought twice before trying to be funny, I might not have hurt my friend's feelings.

Sometimes when things do not seem to be happening the way we think they should, it may be a good time to review our work. Check sales letters for limiting phrases and double meanings. Check to be sure, especially when speaking in front of others, that your listeners are not only hearing what you say, but understanding your meaning.

Emails and forums are especially vulnerable, since the reader does not get to observe body language or hear inflection in your voice. That might have helped in the situation with my friend. We use email so frequently to communicate now, that it seems like a good idea to me to spend an extra minute or two before pressing "send" to make sure you are getting your point across clearly.


Rebecca said...

The email thing affects me every single day! There are lots of times that either he or I have to clarify with each other because we just don't understand each other via email. The man thinks totally differently from me and comes to conclusions I would never think of!
It is all true!

Looking forward to your next post!

Lifewave Nanotech Patch said...

So true, KK,

My mother thought the CCR song "There's a Bad Moon on the Rise" was "There's a Bathroom on the Right."

I like adding LOL after some of my emails or posts to make sure they know I'm joking.