HashOut: 2007/10/28
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Watch your words

Do you argue with loved ones over simple misunderstandings? Little wonder. We overestimate how well we get our point across, says Boaz Keysar, a psychology professor. In his recent study, speakers tried to convey meaning using ambiguous statements. Speakers who thought listeners understood were wrong nearly half the time. Here's expert advice to reduce confusion:
  1. Don't rely on cues. Listeners often nod, make eye contact or say "uh-huh" to be polite or move the conversation along. But it's easy to misinterpret these as signs of understanding.
  2. Train the editor in your head. If you say, "Mary discusses her problems with her husband," it's not clear if she's talking to her husband or about him. Try instead "Mary talks to her husband about her problems." Or, "Mary talks to others about her marital problems."
  3. Ask listeners to restate your message. Preface the request with "I want to be sure I said that right." Questions like "How does that sound?" or "Does that make sense?" may also work.
  4. Listen well. When on the receiving end, ask questions to be sure you're on the same page. After all, speakers aren't responsible for the whole exchange.
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