Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.
–Anne Morrow Lindbergh
The meanings of words are not in the words; they are in us.
–S. I. Hayakawa
Can you match the words to their meaning?
___ 1. phat A. Weird, strange, unfair, or not acceptable ___ 2. dis B. Something stupid or thoughtless, deserving correction ___ 3. wack C. Excellent, together, cool ___ 4. smack D. Old car, generally in poor but serviceable condition ___ 5. down E. Insult, put down, to dishonor, to display disrespect ___ 6. hooptie F. Get out or leave quickly ___ 7. my bad G. Cool, very interesting, fantastic or amazing ___ 8. player H. To be in agreement ___ 9. tight I. Personal mistake ___ 10. jet J. Person dating with multiple partners, often unaware of each other
- Do people use the same language in all settings and contexts? Your first answer might be “sure,” but try this test. For a couple of hours, or even a day, pay attention to how you speak, and how others speak: the words you say, how you say them, the pacing and timing used in each context. For example, at home in the morning, in the coffee shop before work or class, during a break at work with peers or a break between classes with classmates all count as contexts. Observe how and what language is used in each context and to what degree they are the same or different.
- 1-C, 2-E, 3-A, 4-B, 5-H, 6-D, 7-I, 8-J, 9-G, 10-F
Successful business communication is often associated with writing and speaking well, being articulate or proficient with words. Yet, in the quote above, the famous linguist S. I. Hayakawa wisely observes that meaning lies within us, not in the words we use. Indeed, communication in this text is defined as the process of understanding and sharing meaning (Pearson & Nelson, 2000). When you communicate you are sharing meaning with one or more other people—this may include members of your family, your community, your work community, your school, or any group that considers itself a group.
How do you communicate? How do you think? We use language as a system to create and exchange meaning with one another, and the types of words we use influence both our perceptions and others interpretation of our meanings. What kinds of words would you use to describe your thoughts and feelings, your preferences in music, cars, food, or other things that matter to you?
Imagine that you are using written or spoken language to create a bridge over which you hope to transport meaning, much like a gift or package, to your receiver. You hope that your meaning arrives relatively intact, so that your receiver receives something like what you sent. Will the package look the same to them on the receiving end? Will they interpret the package, its wrapping and colors, the way you intended? That depends.
What is certain is that they will interpret it based on their framework of experience. The package represents your words arranged in a pattern that both the source (you) and the receiver (your audience) can interpret. The words as a package try to contain the meaning and deliver it intact, but they themselves are not the meaning. That lies within us.
So is the package empty? Are the words we use empty? Without us to give them life and meaning, the answer is yes. Knowing what words will correspond to meanings that your audience holds within themselves will help you communicate more effectively. Knowing what meanings lie within you is your door to understanding yourself.
This chapter discusses the importance of delivering your message in words. It examines how the characteristics of language interact in ways that can both improve and diminish effective business communication. We will examine how language plays a significant role in how you perceive and interact with the world, and how culture, language, education, gender, race, and ethnicity all influence this dynamic process. We will look at ways to avoid miscommunication and focus on constructive ways to get your message delivered to your receiver with the meaning you intended.
Pearson, J., & Nelson, P. (2000). An introduction to human communication: Understanding and sharing. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.