Lost In Translation – Making Yourself Understood

We’ve all been in awkward situations from time-to-time where we have either misheard something that somebody has said to you, or they have entirely misunderstood you. On occasions, it can be humourous. But when it comes to dealing with important information, it could lead to costly mistakes that can be frustrating or infuriating.

There are lots of times when this happens, you may be on the phone to a call center and the call-handler may mishear you several times. You might not even realize that they have misheard you until much later when you find out that they have incorrectly spelled your name or have recorded the wrong details on your account. Errors such as this can be very costly to both you as an individual, and to businesses that may end up having to pay for their mistakes at a later date.

But this phenomenon is not limited to just having problems on phone calls, with face-to-face interactions often causing confusion too, there is a whole world of misunderstandings out there that can cause lots of headaches.

Why Things Get Misunderstood

Misunderstandings happen all of the time, and they can occur for many different reasons. Understanding the reason for things getting misheard or misunderstood can often help us overcome problems and can minimize the chance of it happening again in the future.

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Where words get misheard either in face-to-face speech or over the phone it may be because the person speaking is in someway muffled. Either having their hand in front of their face when they speak, or by talking quietly, turning their head, or looking down can alter the sound that the listener hears.

The person doing the listening is receiving lots of cues from the speaker. If they are in their presence they will not just be listening to everything that comes out of their mouth, they will be reading body language and paying attention to the listener’s lips. Non-verbal cues help us to fill in the gaps sometimes. They help us to infer the real meaning behind something that someone is saying. But if there is a lack of these cues, we are solely reliant on the sounds of the words. Filling in gaps can be hard, and often the listener may not even realize that there has been a gap in the sounds, and their brain will automatically process the information it thinks it heard.

Language barriers can be a problem. If either the speaker or the listener is having to use a language that is not their native tongue, words can easily get jumbled up. Things get lost in translation and misunderstood.

There are times when the listener knows that they have misheard something, but out of embarrassment or fear they feel unable to query what has been said. Guesswork can then cause further problems.

How To Be Understood As The Speaker

There are ways that you can ensure that you are being understood. It is important that you evaluate the ability of the person with whom you are speaking to hear you clearly, and have some understanding of the level that they are able to comprehend you. If you are talking to them in their second language, realizing this early on is essential.

If you are sharing complicated and important information where spelling is relevant such as an address, a license plate, bank details, or a person’s name, it is crucial that you don’t just assume that they have heard and understood you. Speak slowly, but do make sure that you don’t take a patronizing tone. Spell out information where needed, and use the phonetic alphabet usa to break it down. Repeat yourself to make sure it has been understood.

If you are talking to each other in person, gauge their reactions to what you are saying. Look for signs in their body language that may imply that they have struggled with something that has been said. If they look as though they may be confused, find a way of rephrasing what you have just said. Using a different set of words may help with their understanding.

Break down what you are saying and ensure you are not jumping back and forth between different pieces of information. Staying on track will make understanding you much easier.

If you are dealing with someone who is experiencing hearing loss, make sure that you speak at a reasonable volume and do not cover your mouth. This will help the other person to hear you and to read your lips if they need to.

How To Understand Better As The Listener

Listening is a skill in itself, and you need to be sure that you are understanding what the other person is saying. If their grasp of the language being spoken is not great, or even if yours isn’t, ask for clarity whenever you are confused about something.  Be sure and say if you are not confident in speaking the language that you are using. This will allow them to try and talk in more simplistic terms, or to switch languages.

Try and ensure you are focusing all of your attention on the other person. Look for non-verbal cues if you are face-to-face, and listen to the tone of their voice if you are on the phone.

Do not be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves if you have not heard something, and repeat it back to them to ensure you have understood what they have said to you.

Ask the speaker to spell out keywords or detailed information for you. Again, read this information back and use the NATO phonetic alphabet to do this, or if you are not familiar with this use phrases such as “‘S’ for sugar” to check that you have understood.

Sometimes mistakes are unavoidable, but by realizing that things can go wrong in communication and by making plenty of allowances for this fact, you will find that things go much smoother when you are talking with people.

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Mark Meets
Mark Meets
MarkMeets Media is British-based online news magazine covering showbiz, music, tv and movies
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