Differing Frames of Reference

This morning the wife and I were discussing how easily miscommunication happens. One of the things that cropped up often in my transferrable skills courses was rubbish listening. By that I mean people often applied meaning to something even before a sentence is finished, their filters and prejudices kick in. They pre-empted the thought form and finished it with one of their own. So often I found myself saying, “listen to what is actually said”. I demonstrated this by asking people to recall the words of another. It was surprising to participants that many were unable to give verbatim recall only a few seconds later.

It is my experience that extroverts are, in general, the worst at listening partially because they are keen to speak themselves. They say many things most of which are thinking out loud and it can be said that they don’t mean what they say, because their meaning is evolving through talking. Our doctor is very extroverted and what with the language barrier it is tricky to get a word in edgeways. She wondered why my in surgery blood pressure is high, and I asked her to imagine that she had to speak to a doctor in English.  A fleeting trickle of understanding crossed her brow.

One of the major causes of miscommunication is differing frames of reference.

I have mentioned here that I have been reading the blue books by the Tibetan and Bailey for more than twenty years, I have read the Toltec Teachings and have used the I Ching for more than three decades. I have read widely of the differing streams of Buddhist thought and have a martial arts background.

My frames of references are therefore markedly changed from what they were in my mid-thirties at the beginning of the century. I would have appeared to be a cocky arrogant go-getting young man, then. But I was also a pot smoking vegan. Dragon’s Den is on in the other room. The day we pitched for and gained £ 5million I did not drink champagne with the others. I went to pick up the rental minibus because the following morning I was driving a dozen people to a retreat centre in deepest darkest Carmarthenshire. I had booked the venue whilst finalising the business plan and sorted out the chore rota for the participants. I went from sharp suit to jogging pants and roll up cigarettes.

If you assume you know the frame(s) of reference of another then you are probably wrong, even if you think you know them. You may even try to mentally foist or transfer your interpretive frame of reference onto them, imagining they are coming from the same “place” as you.

None of the venture capitalists nor the technology transfer company knew at that stage that I was a pot smoking vegan hippie and not a high technology entrepreneur. 😉

If for example you have been institutionalised over a period of four decades in science academia, it is likely that your frames of reference, if not your whole world, pertain largely to that. You will have engrained a set of social norms from that world. There is a lot of gossip therein and that seems normal. There is a lot of league table one upmanship, which is bread and butter. In that world being ambitious and competitive {at the expense of others} are often seen as good things.

With my saffron robe on I might say, “ambition is causal of suffering and acquisitional grasping hinders liberation”.

Because of the differing frames of reference there is already a major problem in communication. One seeks success the other liberation.

The above sentiment can be seen as critical of ambition and those so prone might feel attacked. When in fact there is no attack, simply a statement. Calling acquisition and competition grasping might offend. This is because people can add emotional colouration to language when there is none, grasping might be seen as dirty or tawdry and has in the minds of some negative connotation.

People can be rubbish at listening adding meaning and colouration which simply is not there because of their selective perception. They make stuff up in their head.



Have you misunderstood someone like two ships that pass in the night?

Have you ever gotten entirely the wrong end of the stick?

No metaphor:

Have you ever completely misunderstood the frames of reference of another?

Have you ever completely misunderstood someone?

Do you ever make stuff up in your head?

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