Listening beyond words

Sometimes, words are misleading. Sometimes, if you only pay attention to words, it can make communication difficult.

Words are approximations, and they don’t mean the same thing to the everyone. Patterns of words can have very, very different connotations for different people. The same words, even the same phrases, can mean radically different things said by different people.

(Even slur words, sometimes. But I’m mostly not talking about those here.)

So you can’t rely on just the words. That’s misleading. A lot of other things matter too.

Part of it is paying attention to what you know about the person. Do their words match what you’d expect them to say? Is there another way of reading those words that matches that person better?

If someone seems to be saying something dramatically out of character, it’s entirely possible that they don’t mean what you expect those words to mean. It can be good to ask. Like, to say that those words seem to say x, did they really mean that, or something else?

In person, paying attention to tone can be helpful. And body language. And what sort of mood they seem to be in. And pauses. Not everyone can use all of these cues, and that’s ok, you don’t have to.

But there’s always more going on than exact literal meanings of words.