To speak effectively, learn to let go of what you think you are speaking and hear what others are hearing

While communicating with others, we are often surprised, even shocked by how they misunderstand us: “I spoke something so obvious; why are they outraged? What they heard is so drastically different from what I spoke – how did that happen?”

That happened because words have both denotations and connotations. Denotations refer to what words literally mean, whereas connotations refer to what words contextually signify. When we speak, we have in mind a certain combination of denotations and connotations. In contrast, when others hear, they have in mind another combination of denotations and connotations. No wonder what we thought we spoke differs from what they heard. 

How can we ensure a better match between what we speak and what others hear? By taking responsibility for what others hear, not just for what we speak. 

Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (17.15) urges us to speak the truth in a way that is not agitating to others. This means we can’t merely speak the truth and not care if people don’t get it; we need to detach ourselves from what we think we are speaking and train ourselves to hear what they are hearing. This, in fact, is the essence of sensitivity. A simple way to become more sensitive is to ask others what they heard us speak and to hear them out without interrupting or countering.  

Of course, we can’t change how others respond to what we say, but we can change for the better how they hear what we say. If people don’t accept what we say, that is their problem; but if people don’t hear what we say, that is our problem.  

When we thus take the responsibility to become sensitive, our communication will become much more effective.


Think it over:

  • Why does what we think we spoke differ from what others hear?
  • How can we become more sensitive? 
  • During communication, what is our problem and what isn’t?



17.15 Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.

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1 Comment

  1. the TONGUE cost the HEAD

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