The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw.
Shaw was prescient and right on the mark as it applies to modern “communications”, especially email and texting. We seem to harbor the illusion that typing something out in an email or text message and hitting the Send key constitutes communicating. The reliance on those forms of attempted communication, especially in the real estate world, can have unintended and sometime disastrous consequences.
One unintended consequence of using electronic means of communications is the fact that words may be interpreted differently than intended and the reader may infer a completely different tone or voice to the words than was intended. How many times have you had to say “that’s not what I meant by that?” My wife also uses the phrase, “you know what I meant.” Well, the fact is that the reader (or listener) doesn’t know what you meant; they just read or listen to the words and apply the meanings to them that they have stored through their education or experiences.
At least if one is listening, rather than reading, one can pick up on visual and audible cues. My wife always knows when I’m being sarcastic in a remark; however, a reader might not pick up on that or might infer sarcasm where none was intended.
I think one of the biggest mistakes we make when trying to use written communications is not taking the time to completely explain something. We sometimes take mental shortcuts and put them in written communications, assuming that the reader will be able to fill in the blanks or “read between the lines.” That seldom happens exactly the way we intended. Spaces between the lines are oft times filled in with thing we did not mean to say or did not mean for the reader to infer.
In my real estate business I do a lot of negotiations back and forth on deals via emails. I also use the phone, but tend to follow up each conversation with an email to summarize what I think we just talked about or agreed to on a phone call. I like to have that email audit trail of what happened in the course of a deal. It is not unusual to have to go back and forth a few times on every issue to get to the point where both sides agree to what was agreed upon. The same is true with text messages, which can become even more arcane with the use of the special language sometimes used in texting.
So, if you occasionally (or more than occasionally) catch yourself saying or typing in “what I meant was”, perhaps you need to step back and examine your approach to communicating. Maybe your communication is an illusion and the main person that you’re fooling is yourself. The need to be more precise in your choice of words and use of the language is not just a pedagogic exercise; it is a requirement if you wish to be understood – if you wish to really communicate.
My advice is to slow down and think about what it is you are trying to say, either in speech or in writing. You need to think about it from the perspective of the listener/reader and ask yourself, “Is what I’m saying/writing clear enough and complete enough to be understood in the way I intend it to be taken?” After all, if you can’t understand it, once you listen to it/read it; how do you expect anyone else to pull the meaning that you intended out of what you just communicated? Understand? Good, then we’ve communicated.