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Know Your Audience

Many years ago, I read an anecdote about an American man working in Asia. He was frustrated with his communication difficulties with the locals which ran deeper than simply a language barrier.

One day, he felt like he was finally making progress and a colleague of his commented that they were "Thinking along parallel lines." He enthusiastically agreed and hoped this meant their communication difficulties would soon be a thing of the past.

He hoped to soon see a genuine meeting of the minds, but much to his frustration, this did not come to pass. It was soon apparent that nothing had really changed.

When he asked his colleague "What about what you said about us thinking along parallel lines?" the reply he got was "Parallel lines never meet."

The same words can mean very different things to different people. Context helps inform us what is intended but to some degree how your words get interpreted depends on what is in the mind of the person reading them or hearing them.

This is part of why it is critical to know your audience. The misinterpretation of your words can run too deep for a simple thesaurus to clear the matter up.

You may be coming at the topic from fundamentally different perspectives, life experience and mental models. Words alone won't bridge a gap of that sort and more words can just dig your grave deeper if you haven't really yet grasped what lies beneath the misunderstanding.

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