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That’s Not What I Meant! Leah Sefor’s ‘smart, savvy guide to real communication’

In this excerpt, relationship expert and author Leah Sefor, explores what our communication filters are and how they influence the messages we send out to the world.

Let’s talk about that thing you call reality. The truth is, no one knows what reality is. All you have is your own interpretation of what you think is real; that interpretation belongs to you and you alone. No one else sees reality the way you do, not even your parents or siblings. Why? Because unique filters exist between you and reality, which determine how you perceive and experience the world.

Having this unique view of the world means you are never going to share someone else’s complete viewpoint and no one else will share yours. You think the sea is green, your mom thinks it’s blue. You think swearing is offensive, your friends think you’re old fashioned. You think Star Trek is better than Star Wars, we all know you’re wrong. You may share common views on some things with others, but never the whole picture. There are nearly eight billion versions of reality on Planet Earth, none of which are the same. That’s a lot of different filters! This is the fundamental problem with communication. It’s not what two people are trying to say to each other that’s the issue. It’s the filters between them that create the misinterpretations and misunderstandings. 

Your filters are your: 

  • belief systems
  • life experiences
  • decisions you’ve made about yourself and others based on your
  • life experiences
  • memories
  • morals, values and ethics
  • culture and language
  • communication.

Your communication filter is going to determine how you perceive what others are saying and doing. You may interpret someone’s body language and tone of voice in a way that leaves you with the impression that they are shouting, while someone else may see them as just being passionate. 

Your communication filter will also condition the way you communicate to others in your life. You may think you’re speaking in a neutral way, but others may hear aggression. I think I’m sounding very reasonable when I say that you’re an idiot if you think Star Trek is better than Star Wars, but you’ll hear me as being an arrogant ass – only if you’re a Star Trek fan. Star Wars fans know better! See, your communication filter makes it so easy to push your buttons.

Reality is a subjective experience. What you think is real, is only your perception of what you think you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Your perceptions determine your beliefs, and communication is simply how you present your beliefs and your version of reality to the people around you.

Whenever you say anything to anyone in your life, your words and body language morph through their communication filter and emerge into their reality, looking and sounding very different from the way you meant what you said. You must have had an experience of this in your life:

You said, ‘Are those new jeans?’ They heard, ‘You look fat.’ They said, ‘I don’t think you’ll enjoy the movie.’ You heard, ‘I don’t want to go with you.’ You said, ‘We need to talk.’ They heard, ‘I’m breaking up with you.’ They said, ‘Star Wars is better than Star Trek.’ They were right. The end.

You see, the true meaning behind anything being said will only ever belong to the person doing the talking, not to the one doing the listening. You have no idea what your parent’s, partner’s, friend’s, or colleague’s filters are, so you have no control over how they’re going to interpret what you are saying. You can understand how communication gets warped, misinterpreted and misunderstood most of the time, leading to a lot of aggravation and frustration for both sides.

What is being said is not the problem. The way it is being said is where the misinterpretations creep in. Only 7 per cent of the way you communicate is verbal. This means that 93 per cent of the way you communicate is non-verbal! Most of the way in which you interact with others has to do with your body language (posture, tone of skin, dilation of pupils, breathing, body movement, limb placement, etc.) and your voice (volume, tone, tension, speed and quality). When you listen to others speak, you’re navigating the minefield of all those subtle, non-verbal cues. 

For instance: You’re talking about a subject you feel passionate about. You’re using (what you think is) an excited and stimulated tone of voice.

The other person, however, may have a filter that has conditioned them to believe that a loud voice means aggression and attack, so they’re feeling offended by what you’re saying.

You’ve been raised to believe that looking someone in the eye when you speak to them is a way of giving them undivided attention and signifies manners and respect. But that same behaviour may trigger the person you’re speaking to if they come from a culture that’s taught them that eye contact is rude and disrespectful. 

See, misinterpretations can be based on cultural and communication filters. It’s therefore incredibly important, when you are in a relationship with anyone (romantic or platonic), to attempt to understand others’ filters – but, more importantly, to know your own. Think about it: Why do you interpret the things people say to you the way you do? Why do you get offended, reactive, or triggered when people speak? Do people always see you in a different way from the way you see yourself? Have you heard yourself speak? What do you sound like when you talk? What is your body language doing when you speak? Is your physical communication aligned with your verbal communication?

No one is born knowing how to communicate. Communication has to be learnt. DM/ ML

That’s Not What I Meant! The smart, savvy guide to real communication  by Leah Sefor is published by NB Publishers; retail price: R290


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  • My mother said people who said little sounded the wisest. Now I feel its unsafe to say anything with all those critics waiting to pounce!

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