Miscommunications occur in all relationships and usually center around two categories: The use of words that are either “concrete” or “nominalizations.”
Concrete words are specific and definite. Nominalizations are words that are abstract, vague, unspecified and cause the listener to search for meaning within their personal frame of reference.
Here are some concrete words: cement, the Atlantic ocean or “Thursday, January 1st, 2020 at midnight EST.” Now look at these nominalizations: love, absolutely, trust, loyalty, friendship, tomorrow, later, next year, someday soon.
Here’s an example of how nominalizations can cause confusion. Suppose we read: “Keep laughing it’s good for your health.” Would this mean to laugh when the biggest, meanest person trips? Probably not, as that might actually be a good way to get knocked out!
Our communication skills improve exponentially once we learn to identify speech nominalizations—and start asking questions vs. making assumptions to get better clarity.
So if someone says, “I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” But you need an answer by noon, so you have time to make other plans— this is the time to get specific, request concrete deadlines or maybe depending upon the nominalization start asking questions that clarify and clear up any potential for miscommunication.
Miscommunication is forever a part of communication. As Thoreau said, “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” Not sure of the meaning, ask for it to be clarified. Unless the words are concrete, rarely will we ever each read or hear the same words and draw identical conclusions.
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