Processes: Avoiding Ambiguities

Father: I saw the Statue of Liberty flying back from New York
Son: Wow – I didn’t know she could fly!

Often, without realising it, the statements we make can easily be misinterpreted to mean something entirely different than what we had intended. Often, this is because we don’t give enough additional information to get an understanding of what is being said.

As a general rule, if a statement can be read more than one way – eventually someone will read it differently than you intended.

For example, on many forms we are asked to fill in, the word “date” is used, but it is not always clear which date they are asking for. Today’s date? The date of the order? A date of birth?

You can avoid ambiguities by ensuring that you put your information in some sort of context. Adding some background information, or linking to related information, allows the person to better understand the situation in which the information makes sense.

E-mail is a classic situation where ambiguities are seen a lot. When we talk to someone either in person or over the phone, we can add emphasis to particular words or phrases, or vary our tone. This gives us additional information on how the sentence should be read.

Statements such as “just go ahead and burn all our accounts before the tax people get here,” may be taken literally if you you sent them in a written form – rather than spoken with a sarcastic tone (as it was intended to be read).

The important point is to make sure that any word or phrase you use can not have a double-meaning if spoken in a certain way.

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