An often found assumption is that we understand what the other is saying.
But what if that isn’t the case?
The anthropologist Edward Hall developed a metric of communication distinguishing cultures by the degree to which these cultures are high or low context. This metric is based on how much context we are expected to know in our conversation. Looking at the cultures located at the far ends of this scale we’ll find the US as a low context culture and Japan as a high context culture.
In a low context country like the US, communication preferences have adapted themselves to the high diversity of cultures and languages integrated into the US culture. Sharing details and repeating information to be sure one is understood helped people to develop a common culture. Japanese history is very different in immigration and diversity of cultures which made it less relevant to adapt to people who didn’t know the context. Effective communication meant leaving out information everyone was expected to know.
This metric makes visible how the context of our communication becomes relevant. It also helps us to know that different people or cultures prefer different types of communication. What it doesn’t provide us with, is a way to decide if we’ve understood the other.
There is at least another level of communication that is relevant. It’s the space that includes our worldviews and what we are seeking to achieve with our communication. How we perceive the world, that is the beliefs we have, the understanding we have of how things should be, the information we’ve been able to gather, all impact our reality. Or what we see as reality.
This is different for everyone.
One of the reasons why it is so difficult to understand Trump is that one needs to be exactly in his mindset to follow his explanations. And as he constantly transforms the reality he is referring to, it is challenging to follow at his speed. He doesn’t seek to be understood. He only seeks to be followed.
For others who seek to be understood the situation is a different one. They know that it isn’t only meaning that affects how we are understood. It is our ability to share the story as a whole. That is to include the main elements describing the reality we are discussing with.
A story starts at the beginning and has an end. It has a chronological order of events. Sharing that story serves a purpose. By missing out on some of these elements our communication stays in a high-context reality. Ours.
If ever there is a right way to communicate, then it starts with putting that communication on a sound ground. It is creating a space for communication that is shared. That’s what shared reality refers to.
Leaving the assumption aside that one must understand the communication allows us to explore the other person’s reality. As both set out to do this, they allow themselves to establish a shared reality. One within which their communication is eased.