It amazes me how difficult it is to communicate clearly. I teach classes on communication, and I always stress being clear – absolutely clear – when you’re speaking and writing. I focus on how easy it is for people to misunderstand you, how even with your best intentions, people can take offense at what you share. Or simply misinterpret what you mean. They read into what you write or make up stories about what you say or simply don’t get the sense of what you think is simple and straightforward and blatantly obvious.

It just happened to me.

I am taking continuing education courses for my coaching recertification, and the instructor in one of the courses gave the class homework for the week – to do at least one extreme self-care thing for ourselves. I decided to pass this suggestion along to all of my past and current coaching clients (I offer it to you as well, in fact). I sent an email to everyone suggesting they choose one extreme self-care action or behavior for themselves – and commit to it and do it.

Now, I thought that was very clear. I think it’s clear as I share it with you. But I got on a call with one of my clients this morning and one of the first things he said was, “What do you mean by extreme self-care? Do I have to run an ultra-marathon? Do I need to bike twenty miles?”

He wasn’t kidding. He didn’t understand my blatantly obvious challenge…because it wasn’t blatantly obvious. Or at least it was only blatantly obvious to me. It was clear in my mind what I meant. Why didn’t he understand me?

And, by the way, if he didn’t understand me, chances are that others didn’t understand me as well.

He didn’t understand me because I left room for interpretation. It’s like when I’m leading a communications program and I ask the attendees what “As Soon As Possible” means. With twenty people in the room, I get at least seven to ten different answers, if not more. I may think I’m being clear when I ask you to get me something ASAP, but what ASAP clearly means to me and what ASAP clearly means to you may be two entirely different things.

It can be difficult to be completely clear. It can be impossible. My client’s question this morning reminded me of how easy it is to “speak so as to be misunderstood” and how much I need – we all need – to work to make sure that what we mean to share is taken in its correct and actual meaning.

How have you been misinterpreted?
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