Did you know that we filter messages we hear to make them fit our beliefs about the world? We may think that we have the whole truth about a given communication sent to us, but in actual fact we scan for data that confirms our belief about how we think things are and should be in the world. The problem here, is that our colored view of reality does not always correspond with the truth. What we think is being communicated does not always jive with what is really intended by the messenger.
Here are some examples of beliefs that people hold, that filter the messages sent to them and distort their realities.
- Management personnel don’t care about their workers.
- If someone raises their voice it means that they are out to hurt me.
- Men should be paid more than women who do comparable jobs.
What we believe about a given situation determines our thoughts and behaviors with respect to that reality. Every reality can be framed in a variety of ways. Let’s consider these beliefs briefly.
Management personnel don’t care about their workers.
It is true that some management systems do not adequately consider their workers. However this is not always true, as some managers are very compassionate toward their workers. If I believe this statement I will judge all gestures by management to be self serving and predatorial, and I will filter their messages to square with my belief about them. Thus I may never allow myself to enjoy the benefits that they are also offering me, and may even poison employer –employee relations.
If someone raises their voice it means that they are out to hurt me.
If this is my belief, I will hear all raised voices as angry and aggressive. My response and feelings will always be negative, when in fact they may not be aligned with the intent. People may be angry when they raise their voices but they may also be excited or scared or they may have a louder style than one may be accustomed to. To hold the above belief means that I filter out all the other possible interpretations for their messages. Effective business communication requires that I entertain a variety of possibilities in order to make an informed response.
Men should be paid more than women who do comparable jobs.
If we hold this belief we will perceive women as less valuable than men, still a problem in some work environments. Giving this message to women serves only to demoralize them and cannot possibly evoke the best from them. Holding this belief also supports a discriminatory attitude in the workplace which will eventually generalize to everyone. In this environment everyone loses. Effective business communication has no place for discrimination. Logic tells us that comparable work should command comparable pay.
So what can you do to check your beliefs and see whether they in fact filter messages, which may harm or short change you or someone else?
- Remember that there is a multitude of ways to interpret any given situation. If you have dissonant feelings about the way something has been said or done, try to think about as many possibilities as you can to interpret the meaning of that event. This opens you to consider more options and helps you to avoid snap judgments which could keep you from hearing the true meaning of the message.
- Test your assumptions with those whom you respect and trust. This again allows you to see more possibilities before making your choice.
- Keep an open mind so you can adjust your view if new data emerges.
- Check your assumptions with the concerned person(s), by first using a curious attitude so you can align your belief with the intention of the messenger.
Our beliefs do filter messages that are sent to us. It is the responsibility of each one of us to sift through the information presented and determine as best we can its true meaning. We all have many different beliefs about the way the world is or should be. Sometimes these beliefs prevent us from perceiving messages correctly. Effective business communication demands that we get these messages right. It’s up to us to be discerning in our perceptions and thereby promote workplace harmony.