23 August 2005

Interpretation and Perception

I don't mean translating. I mean how we construe what other people say, or write. Interpretation is at the heart of all interaction and is practically always overlooked. Failure to consider how ones words are perceived can, with some certainty, be placed at the core of all bad communication.

The words themselves can be well-meaning, or innocuous, but we derive as much, if not more, information from the sub-text, the nuance. For example, if your female significant other (for those of you that have one) says "Get to bed early last night?", you know painfully well she's not making a airy inquiry and that she's all too aware what time you crept into bed with your tail between your legs.

Politicians are the few people for whom interpretation is foremost in their minds, and still they're rubbish at it. People see through their lies and stories, see "spin" and deception, even if nothing is spinning. It may be that being aware of how your words are perceived, and actively trying to alter that, merely makes your words seem hollow, regardless of their substance.

The rise of email as a method of communication has thrown the perception of the meaning of your words into even sharper relief. Since all nuance is removed, the original meaning can be even more easily misconstrued. Emoticons (;-b) were invented to counter this problem. This is why, even in this day and age, face to face meetings and conference calls are still commonplace.

Now, if human interaction contains nuances that alter our perception of the meaning of the words, wouldn't that make written or electronic communication less susceptible to these misinterpretations? Given the continued use of meetings, it would appear that we would prefer to retain this extra information, even if it results in misinterpretations. So, if we're stuck with speaking to people face-to-face, we should pay more attention to how our words are perceived.

It would be interesting to know how this ramble is perceived. And does my calling it a ramble reinforce or change your perception of these words thus far? Were I, if I haven't already, to veer off on some random tangent, would that denigrate that which I have written thus far? Does the fact that I have a propensity for using big words make me come across as elitist? Or that I have an intellectual inferiority complex? Does it turn you off? Have you even lasted this far?

Who knows, because the major unknown factor (in terms of perception) is the person with whom you are communicating. Their entire life, and its constituent experiences, alter how they perceive what you have said. This is why communication has to be pitched; aimed at its target audience.

This is where what has laterly come to be known as "spin" comes in; delivering the information in such a way (usually altered) so that its meaning can be mandated to some extent. Spin is a powerful weapon in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. If Shane Warne could put the revolutions on a cricket ball that government spin doctors put on a press release, he'd be looking at rather more than 600700 Test wickets. However, once people become aware of spin, and its effects, they see spin everywhere. And they don't like it.

People don't like to be spun, what I'll call "active" spin. They prefer passive spin; spin that they apply subconciously. Which is where the spinners have their problem. The unadulterated truth is not an option, yet spinning a yarn isn't an option either.
So spin, in the political arena anyway, has had its chips.

Spin, and perception, and interpretation will continue to be part of our interactions with other people. It derives from our evolutionary roots, where elementary vocal communications had to be heavily backed up by a range of body language.

It's an interesting topic and I'm pretty sure I haven't come up with any answers, merely more questions. I should note that I'm not a psychologist, or behavioural scientist, so it's more than likely that all this is bollocks.

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