Miscommunication and a ‘scientific’ example

I’d like to detail a case of common miscommunication.

“Common” I call it, but I suspect not commonly recognized. Taking into account that society is populated with millions of people, each speaking his own personal language which is partitioned within the broader national language he converses in daily, and further compounded by the fact that each person’s manner of expression is subject to the influence of personal and social deviancies and irregularities, when all this is factored, that little philosophical gem of “no two snowflakes are alike” as applied to all these people attempting to speak to each other on some common ground, it is quite obvious that miscommunication must be the rule, not the exception. There are egregious examples of miscommunication we can all point at. I say A, you say B, the primary descriptor is obviously different and the case of miscommunication is obvious. But these are the rare occurrences and are most likely due to difficulty in hearing and in other cases due to oddities in thinking which may be pathological or behavioral in nature. For the most part, our primary expressions are generally understood by all. Agreement is quite another matter. My point is, on the surface, most communication is legible and clear but in many cases, miscommunication is damn near invisible.

There are countless instances throughout the day in which miscommunication sneaks subtly past everyone’s ears and results in disjointed feelings of antagonism or harsh judgement. The subtle form of daily miscommunication is nearly opaque but it is present and discernible, but it slips past most people because they are not keenly aware of the socially microscopic nuances in most conversation and intended meanings and incongruence between the two trains of conversation. Recognizing miscommunication like this requires that you envision the entirety of the conversation from a dispassionate and scientific perspective…that you distance your involvement and scrutinize what is being said and its intentions against the context of the conversation and recognize where it falls short. “Where it falls short” is what most people do not glimpse, but this does not mean they don’t sense the fragmented communication or that they are immune to its effects. Such subtle miscommunication plagues the subconscious and while it doesn’t openly pummel our senses, it subliminally triggers reactions in our subconsciousness which manifest themselves as egotistical reactions spurred on by inexplicable feelings of frustration, offense, insult, impatience.

That we are unable to recognize or “get in touch” with our own miscommunication is due to the fact that in communicating with others we primarily rely on our ego-driven assumptions to steer our expectations. We do not comprehend the entire range of interpretations inherent to a normal conversation and disregard those of the person we are speaking with. And with each party you add to the conversation, you exponentially increase the degree of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Rather than 2 people failing to synchronize their verbal and intuitive placement, you have a group that cannot make sense of what anyone else is saying.

This subtle miscommunication is why you walk away from an encounter feeling uneasy and slightly perturbed and not knowing why you feel like you do.

It seems I experience episodes of miscommunication quite often, and I realize this is an indictment of myself. I don’t know what the indictment is, but the fact I seem to be Ground Zero in an endless series of daily miscommunication must reveal an embarrassing insight into my personality. Is it me? Obviously it is, but is it because my communication skills are sharper than others or is it that mine are duller and I can’t keep up with the skills of the normal human. Do most people talk in a certain manner that I don’t comprehend? And thus I find myself perpetually at a loss when dealing with most people? That might explain a lot.

Today I encountered a miscommunication.
It was such an esoteric and detailed miscommunication that to try and detail it would confound more than clarify. But it occurred to me this was one of those classic cases of subtle miscommunication which may very well lead to an aggrieved sense of frustration on the part of both parties while still flying low enough below the radar to elude obvious detection.

So this is how it began.
I’ve taken a normal daily situation and rendered it mathematical here. For the sake of clarity.

I needed to distill some written notes into a legible and logical equation.

I was given 4 digits: A, B, C & D.
Each was standardized by a unit descriptor, let’s call it z.

In addition, each digit/descriptor combination was also notated with a non-mathematical phrase, a verbal “non-player” so to speak. Let’s call these top, bottom, left and right.
In essence, the email I worked off listed the following info which I needed to decipher and convert to a logical and usable form for our customers.

Az (“top”)
Bz (“bottom”)
Cz (“left”)
Dz (“right”)

Essentially, I am used to and usually bank on the fact that there will only be one value noted, A, B, C or D, on the paperwork I work off. Only one. Not an open-ended list of 4 from which to deduce a figure without any supplemental information (and the verbal descriptor was of no assistance). Being inexperienced with the department involved, I sauntered over and asked a person who is very familiar with the workings and terminology of that department. I showed her the email with the aforementioned items and sought her help in guiding me through the proper procedure by which to filter out the info so I could arrive at a relevant figure from which I could proceed. She commenced to explain the meanings of the verbal phrases (descriptors). She gave me a thorough explanation of the intrinsic nature of the data and its applicability to the other digits and I asked which operations I needed to perform on items A through D which was a somewhat circuitous way of asking if I needed to consider all 4 figures in determining my final answer. She continued to detail the proper context and environment through which all this data co-mingled. I learned a lot from her descriptions, but I was approaching this dilemma from the position of needing to determine a figure I could best use to complete my task. Having a rather admirable understanding of her department’s workings, she found it unavoidable that she must give me a penetrating explanation of the minute functioning of her department’s work flow leaving out one crucial item…that which I needed answered. Her knowledge was so well-grounded and extensive that the true nature of my inexperienced question and motivation was incomprehensible to her advanced status. Finally, after a silent moment, I said, “OK, so I need to add these together [A through D] for my number.” I’ve always found when the process becomes murky, it’s best to state your question as a course of action and indirectly place the other party in the position of approving or disapproving of your proposed plan of action. “No, no she responded,” a little flustered or confused. She then explained to me what I needed to know in order to make sense of the random data. She explained that A through D is generated for each scenario as detailed by the descriptive phraseology. In other words, A, B, C, and D are listed for me to choose from, not to use each for my data set! Therein lay the key element to this puzzle which she did not think to elucidate until I asked the question plainly. Our miscommunication was owing to her not understanding my motivation in seeking a clarification of the relationship between A, B, C and D, and in my lack of explicitly ascertaining what I needed in terms of useful data I could derive from the numbers. Miscommunication is frequently sabotaged by assumptions. I assumed she would realize what I needed because I had this internal need which I assumed someone else would automatically deduce; and she for assuming that her proud and extensive detailed explanation of her department’s workings would satisfy all my knowledge and thus park an answer right in my lap. But she didn’t realize knowledge is only useful if the practice of applying it is learned. My question finally elicited a direct response in which she spelled out the “practice” and my puzzle was answered.

This matter, in the real world, is rather mundane and if you were to know what it was, you would laugh. I’ve mysticized it by framing it within the context of a mathematical equation, but that was done in order to anonymize a specific and revealing situation, while at the same time transforming random facts into a predictable and uniform equation.
This is the sort of miscommunication she might have walked away thinking, “What an idiot, I told him the answer” and I might have walked away thinking “what an idiot, did she expect me to read her mind?”

Miscommunication such as these transcend a “wrong” or a “right.” There is only your way and my way. How do we train ourselves to recognize inconsistencies in communication and thus compensate for the inbuilt inequality between the two in order to avoid misunderstanding?