There was a philosophy class during my communications master studies where I learned about Plato, Hegel, Heidegger, and others. But sadly there was no mention of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who I recently learned from this YouTube video, has some excellent theories on communication which can be summarised into two simple lessons.
Lesson 1: Understand that language is a matter of perception
Wittgenstein realised that language triggers pictures in our minds of how things are. For example, let’s say someone asks you to join them for drinks. If you are familiar with the term “drinks”, you will quickly assume that there will be alcohol involved, most likely in a bar. You have that picture in your mind already, based on experience. But what if you were a Muslim, who never and cannot have, “drinks”? You might then accept the invitation and later regret it.
It is obvious that misunderstandings like this happen often, and is of course due to the differences in experience and understanding of words and meaning. But, if you are vigilant in your conversations, you can reduce misunderstandings by simply asking the other person if they understand what your talking about, and have them repeat it back to you in their own words. If possible, do this every time you sense an uncertainty in the other person’s tone, manner, or facial expression.
It is also good practice to clear any confusions during an important meeting by having all parties state exactly their understanding of the meeting before it closes. This is where having minutes of meetings is important for efficiency, as they are usually written by one person who is neutral. That person might then summarise the meeting in their own perspective that is different than the others and can then be clarified by further discussion.
Lesson 2: Understand that language is a tool for intentions
The term “games’ is used in the video to show how people use language to play games with each other, by saying something that really means something else. We do this all the time, by being sarcastic, over exaggerating, and speaking in allusions. It then becomes important that to be good communicators we should know and identify all the types of games, or as it is also called: patterns of intentions.
Here’s a simple practice: when someone speaks to you, do not process it literally and immediately respond with it. Instead, take a few moments to identify the underlying intention of that person. What is he trying to achieve here? Most people have something to gain from their actions. By knowing their intentions beforehand, you can readily prepare the best answer. Of course, this is hard to do during first meetings, or when intentions are clouded on purpose. During these situations, if at all possible, it is better to ask all parties to lay out their cards. That is, be frank about their intentions first, before continuing the conversation.
It is logical that the more you spend time with someone, the more easily you can tell their intentions by sheer observational experience. But, it is amazing how often you can fall for these games, as if you never learn or is just habitually or instinctively fall prey to it.
The example given on the video is one can relate to, and I think many others do too. It is when someone states an exaggeration such as “You never help me!” which is obviously a cry for help, but somehow, we always process it a factual statement. We then often respond by reciting all the times in the past where we did help, to prove that the statement is wrong. Talk about completely missing the point.
So why do people play these games, and why do we often fall for it? Well, I believe that the reason is disconnection. Being afraid to be upfront, distrust, strict rules of conduct, or even timidness, all require us to play the language games. All those factors disconnect us from each other, even those we talk to every single day. A prudent solution would be to sit down and address those issues, however uncomfortable it may be, for the long term benefit of clear communications.
If you found the video insightful, do visit the channel School of Life. They cover some interesting topics, with my favourite being philosophy.