Divided by a common language


How often do we believe that we have clearly communicated, only to discover that others have completely misunderstood what was said?

I’m trying to run a project and one individual in particular keeps re-interpreting what I say into something different.

When I explain in writing how milestone 1 can be achieved in 10 days, followed by many smaller milestones, she re-interpreted it to mean that all the milestones can be achieved in 10 days. Huh?

I define steps in how to do something so that work flows from one to another, then she decides this is not what she wants, changes the rules, tells others but not me, and then when everything has ground to a halt, seems baffled as to why.

I remember, many years ago, having support for a new software application directly from the USA. Rick and I spent many companionable hours on the telephone (Yes Belinda this was before the days of internet-based e-mail or online-chat). We eventually discovered some of the problems were in different use or understanding of the same English words.

Have you ever tried to read instructions, written by a non-English speaker, but which are supposed to be correct? I remember receiving 2 chairs to assemble, crying with laughter and frustration over how incomprehensible the instructions were. Fortunately there were pictures with the instructions, and these eventually made it possible to assemble the chairs.

I often hear people bemoaning the adulteration of the English they know with new words and phrases, new meanings for words. As this is exactly how languages evolve, I wonder why they bother to complain. People bring in ways of speaking taken from other languages, other sub-cultures, existing or evolving local dialects.

Yet there has to be a fellow feeling when the tiny changes to the language all add up to us being divided by a “common language.”

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13 thoughts on “Divided by a common language

  1. I once laughed like a drain reading instructions for some or other gadget, amongst them were ‘when battery is lazy take another’.
    Your person sounds like a nightmare to work with.

    1. English as she is spook?

      The person knows litle, gets defensive when asked to work hard, likes to make decisions and jump to conclusions. Very exhausting. But today I’m going to re-publish results from their team, as they really are, not as they have been reporting them to me.

      This is an extremely exhausting project (like so many) with too many of the ones who are embedded in a corporate culture with no pressure to deliver.

      Yesterday the statement that they could not come to Jobutrg to work next Friday because it is a long weekend, just left me gobsmacked. Monday is the holiday, not Friday.

  2. While communication is ripe for misunderstanding . . . some people raise miscommunication to an art form.

    {{yawn}} My batteries are getting lazy. It’s time for the light to nod off for the night. 😀

  3. I see what you mean about divided by a common language! We are right on the same lines today!

    People have selective listening. They choose what they want to hear, and leave out the bits they find unpalatable, and then say you didn’t tell them. The human brain is a complex entity…

  4. Sorry to hear about your work frustrations, Sidey. We had some fascinating times with this, selling some of Dave’s photography to an image library in Taiwan. It was so worthwhile figuring things out, but what a process 😀

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