Communicating with people today reminds me of the “Do You Know What I Mean?” game played on the “Whose Line is it Anyway?” TV show.
In the game, the comedians use everyday phrases or words but change the inflections of their voices to give the phrase or word a different connotation. For instance, they’re told they are customers in a bakery and must use bakery or cooking terms in unique ways.
To that end, you’ll get comments such as, “I’ve been waiting for over an hour to get my dough, if you know what I mean.” Or “You have delicious buns here, if you know what I mean.” And based on their vocal tones, expressions, and actions, you can take what they say as inflammatory, sexual, or just plain silly.
But euphemisms are no longer just a silly game on a TV show. Rather, they have become our communications standard. But using euphemisms to express ourselves has created its own type of miscommunication, which still leads to anger and upset. For instance, what is really meant when someone says they’re having difficulties at work? Are they unable to understand the functions of their job? Or do they not get along with their bosses or co-workers? Why can’t they simply say, “I don’t know what my boss wants because he is unclear in his instructions.” Great, now we can commiserate with our friend and maybe offer some advice.
Or how about when your company decides they no longer need your services and you’re told your job has been downsized (as opposed to being supersized?), you’re being offered a career change (what if you like your career just as it is?), or you’re being let go (was someone holding your hand?). Why can’t they just say, “You’re being fired.” At least that would be honest. And if they would give you a reason why you’re being fired, it would be even more helpful. Then you could avoid making the same mistake with your next company.
Miscommunications abound because we no longer speak or write honestly. Instead, we find colorful ways to talk around the issue (whatever the issue is). Two of the most common times that we fail to communicate honestly with each other involve love and death. The two most important times of our lives and we can’t be honest with each other. It’s sad.
Yet, instead of telling someone we love them, we skirt the issue by saying things like, “You fulfill me,” or “You complete me.” (What part of you was missing?) Granted, sometimes euphemisms can help us express how much we love someone by enabling us to create poetic and figurative phrases and statements. But those same euphemisms can also be misconstrued and misunderstood if not accompanied by some plain talk.
The other time in our lives that we rarely speak plainly is when someone dies. Yes, dies. They don’t pass away, move on (where’d they go, Nebraska?), or find a better place (and if they did, why can’t we visit them?). People die. We need to stop pretending that death doesn’t happen. It does, and it’s all right. It’s part of life.
So, stop miscommunicating with everyone and tell people what you really mean. It can save you and them a lot of bad feelings and time. Because instead of spending time trying to fix the hurt caused by the original miscommunication, you could be spending time enjoying life.
(For more information on how improving your communications can improve your relationships, read the book, More from the Masters.)