Improve Communication with Shared Meaning of Words

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Clear communication is critical for sharing ideas and avoiding misinterpretations. By focusing on establishing shared meaning, we can significantly improve communication.


I often see first-hand how easily communication breaks down when parties don’t establish shared meaning. I wanted to share the strategies I’ve learned to avoid those confusing mix-ups and bring more authentic clarity to conversations.

Ask Clarifying Questions

When someone says something you find unclear, don’t just let it slide. I once asked the hotel clerk for a nice outdoor restaurant to grab dinner. She recommended a place that turned out to be a rollicking party bar—not exactly the quiet meal I had envisioned! If I had asked follow-up questions like “Could you explain what the atmosphere there is like?” or “What do you specifically mean by ‘nice’?”, I would have realized our disconnect sooner. Save yourself the confusion down the line by clarifying ambiguous language upfront.

Explain Key Terminology

As a content marketer, I rely on industry terms like “storytelling” and “interview” constantly in my work. But as I discovered, these words can imply totally different things outside of marketing and journalism roles. “Interview” triggered images of HR screening processes rather than information-gathering conversations in some minds. Take time to explain field-specific lingo, define terms clearly on your website, and periodically re-summarize intended meaning in any long-form communications.

Actively Listen

Miscommunication easily happens when people passively hear words without dedicating mental effort to comprehend meaning. After I explain a content production concept on my podcast using familiar jargon, I’ll often restate the big picture ideas in everyday language to confirm listener understanding. I also pay attention to verbal and non-verbal feedback to gauge if my message is coming across accurately. This engaged, attentive approach from both speaker and listener improves authentic communication tremendously.

Consider Situational Context

I need to tailor examples and analogies in my podcast to audiences from many different cultural backgrounds, experience levels and communication needs. A useful illustration for technical marketers around optimizing websites may just confuse non-technical listeners. Similarly, written channels like my podcast transcripts require more explicit explanation than quick in-person exchanges. Think about framing, shared touchpoints and channel limitations when communicating to improve clarity.

Check Assumptions

As a podcaster focused on clear communication, I still catch myself assuming certain words or ideas imply set meanings for audiences. When I say “Think about a dog…” to make a point, I pictured a brown-speckled German Shorthair without considering you may envision a completely different breed and temperament. Regularly reality test that audiences interpret common phrases the same way you do before continuing.

By continually pursuing shared meaning through clarifying questions, thoughtful explanations and engaged, empathetic listening, we can achieve more positive communication outcomes, one conversation at a time.

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