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The Word a person uses is usually not what they mean … but can you decipher the real message?

By Gregory Ferrett

Welcome to Monday


On September 13th 2013 Voyager I became the first man-made object to leave the solar system.  Attached to the spaceship, on a gold disc, is greetings to other inhabitants of the universe in 55 languages from around the world.

Among them are a message in Welsh and six now extinct tongues.

  • The Welsh message translates to say: “Good health to you now and forever.”
  • The Chinese greeting invites those who find the disk to come and visit, while others give directions as to where we are.
  • Perhaps the most elaborate greeting is in Amoy, a dialect of Min Nan, which is spoken in parts of China and Taiwan.  It says: “Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time.”

Anticipation of a response from the messages on Voyager I, I imagine, is limited.

Cultural Communication Lens

I was working with Samsung Corporation in Seoul and running a number of workshops. As I asked questions of the participants and made some suggestions for them to consider I was met with a wall of inaction. Their most common response was “Maybe.”

I talked this over with my good friend Byoung-chul Min, author of the book ‘Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans’. He reminded me Koreans do not like to  say “No, I do not think that is a good idea,” because they do not want to hurt my feelings. Coming from my culture, by not hearing a “No,” I assume the answer is “Yes.” Koreans are trained to try and do what the boss wants, no matter how impossible or ridiculous. In this case I was engaged by the boss as a consultant and they were trying to please their boss through me. Once I understood this I immediately started to interpret the use of the word “Maybe,” with “No.”

The project started to move ahead immediately!

The Full Spectrum

The visible spectrum of energy, the images we pick up with our eyes,  represents less than 0.001% of all the information the universe is trying to tell use. Science has developed specialised equipment to pick up x-rays, ultra-violet, infrared, microwaves and radio waves. The atmosphere is full of information if we just know which  equipment is required to pick it up and how to tune in. If you want to listen to punk rock you press a button and a radio station is tuned in. If you want to call a colleague you type in their number and they pick up your request on a microwave band.

How many pieces of information do you use to make a decision?

Psychologists today tell us the average person will make a decision on just two pieces of corroborating information. If three pieces of corroborating  information is offered, no matter how accurate (or inaccurate) that information is, will move a person from ‘likely to take action’ to’ certainty’.

What does this mean?

In every encounter we have with a new prospect we are presented with enormous amounts of data . We get this information verbally, by body language, cultural mannerism and other indirect prompts. We need to be sure we are listening to the whole story rather than the first two pieces of collaborating information.

It would be interesting to observe the reaction the first intelligent life has to the message carried on Voyager I.  Will they make a quick assessment of who we are? or will they ask more questions?

It is easy to listen to one or two pieces of information and make a call on the value of this person or their ability to make a decision. Listening to the hidden message as well as the words spoken will turn you into a communications champion.

Today’s question and actions

Observing signals like happy or sad; stressed or relaxed, are obvious. Investing time understanding the other signals people provide is pure gold.

  • Their demeanor is reserved – perhaps they are looking for a cautious approach
  • Their outgoing nature makes you like them straight away , but they will not make a decision – perhaps they are covering an insecurity
  • They are abrupt and dismissive –  Perhaps their ego needs stroking

Listening to words and using the lens of emotion can bring a whole new meaning to communication and understanding of what a prospect us really after.

Have a great week!

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