The Babel Effect

Transmitting what’s in our mind into the consciousness of someone else is tricky at best. Individuals process new information by comparing to what they’ve experienced and know. Think a child asking is ‘this’ like ‘that’ when exposed to something new.

We offer examples to help others understand, but since we are unique – no one else has an identical collection knowledge and memories – sometimes the examples cloud rather than clarify.

I returned to the office after a doctor visit with a huge bandage strapped to my arm. A collegue asked about my ‘injury’ and I told her I had a punch biopsy done. What’s that, she asked?

It’s like a core sample of a concrete roadway (a hollow-core drill takes a cross-sectional sample to test for quality control) – the punch biopsy is a miniature version of this for tissue samples.

Didn’t help…she’d no exposure to core samples – I learned about them when driving a concrete truck in undergrad school. Like a chat among people at the Tower of Babel, we were not understanding each other.

People hear what is important to them, colored by their own experiences. As the speaker, we have surprisingly little control of what the listener actually takes away from a conversation or presentation.

To understand what they heard, I ask the person to repeat instructions or assignments in their own words, or ask what was the best thing he or she learned from a presentation. This reduces the ‘Babel Effect’.

What’s your experience?

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