Skills:We Expect Misunderstanding

There are many skills that the study of linguistics cultivates, and the irony is that the longer you have been doing linguistics, the more natural each of these starts to become, and therefore, less visible.  Further, in the educational context, we can take our skills for granted because we are surrounded by people who share them, but the truth is that out there in the work world, a linguist’s way of listening is as rare as it is valuable.

All week this week, I am sharing skills that I see as being cultivated by a study of linguistics – share yours!  (tweet @careerlinguist and use #skills)

We expect misunderstanding
In courses like Cross-Cultural Communication, we focus in on moments of miscommunication and misunderstanding, and not because we believe communication to be impossible, but instead to celebrate what an interactional achievement smooth communication actually is.  Adopting a stance of expecting misunderstanding informs our way of looking at interaction and our interactional behavior in many important ways.

First, it gives us a bit of critical distance from our language when we understand that miscommunication is not personal, it is not because we are ineffectual or owing to willful lack of effort or cooperation on the part of the other party.  This knowledge makes us value communication.  We know that it takes work to communicate, and we have patience for this work.  Additionally, we know how to talk about communication, so that when miscommunication does occur, not only are we more likely to recognize it, we know how to diagnose it, talk about it, unpack it – to arrive at a deeper understanding of it.  We rush in where others may fear to tread!

Expecting misunderstanding at the outset will lead you to work towards understanding (to invest in it).  We cultivate a certain comfort with misunderstanding which can help us get people through conflict, which is a rare skill indeed!