Thursday, 31 May 2012


(i) A woman: I have known people who thought that, because they had a PhD, they could just walk into any job and do the job without any training or preparation.
Me (surprised but wanting to know more): Where have you met these people?
Woman: Lots of places! Lots of places!
Me: But where?
Woman: Lots of places! Lots of places!

The conversation went no further. I realised afterwards that, when I asked where she had met them, she took me to mean, "I do not believe you have met such people," and that, when she said, "Lots of places!", she meant, "Yes, I have!" But I did not realise that then and was just conscious of not having a question answered. Since then, I have come to doubt the existence of such people.

(ii) A guy I was working with: Albert wants the pick and shovel.
Me: Where are they? (meaning: where are the pick and shovel?)
Guy: They're out on the back field. (meaning: Albert and his mate are working out on the back field.)
Me (not yet realising my mistake): What? The pick and shovel have been left lying out on the back field?
Guy: Nnnooo!!! (but making no attempt to elucidate further.)
Me (realising my mistake): I asked you where the pick and shovel were.
Guy: No, you didn't! I asked you where they were!
Me: No, you didn't!

He thought that to tell me that Albert wanted the pick and shovel was the same as to ask me where the pick and shovel were. My attempt to clear up the misunderstanding just drove us further into it. The guy would have had no ability to work out what went wrong in the conversation and just thought that I was mad.

I think it is worthwhile to note the ways in which communication fails. I was able to understand after the event even though I floundered while the miscommunication was happening.

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