Is Your Communication Up For Interpretation?

Is Your Communication Up For Interpretation?

Last week my mom, sister and I went to an art exhibit called “Art in Bloom” at the Medfield (MA) Public Library.

It was a collaboration between Medfield High School students and local floral designers.

In short, the students created art – painting, drawing, photography, digital graphics – and the floral designers interpreted it by designing a complimentary floral arrangement.

Communication interpretation 1Some of the arrangements were spot on and had us saying, “Oh, yes, I can see the resemblance here with the colors and shapes and position of the flowers.”

And some of the arrangements made us scratch our heads and go, “Hmmm … not seeing the resemblance.”

Nonetheless, a person’s ability to create art – on paper, computers or through flowers is awe inspiring. Because that is not a skill I possess (my mom, sister and father have it, so not sure what happened there), I very much appreciate it when others do.

So, I took photos of the arrangements and paintings, which made my mom ask, “What are you going to do with the pictures? Write a newsletter?”

Ha. Yes, I told her, as a matter of fact I am.

Unclear Communication

Because as we walked through the library admiring the art interpretations, I thought about how our words are often left up to interpretation when we fail to communicate clearly.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernard Shaw

For example, last week my husband, Michael, was invited by a friend to attend a charity poker tournament. My husband doesn’t play poker and didn’t want to go. His response, by text, “I hate to say no.”

His friend wrote back, “Great! So, you’re in? I’ll buy you a ticket.”

When Michael shared this exchange I said, “You weren’t clear in your response. It sounds like you’ll go.”

My husband struggled to communicate clearly because, while he didn’t want to go, he also didn’t want to let down his friend. So, his friend interpreted the response differently than Michael intended.

Has this ever happened to you?

Here is another example. Last week at a networking event, I spoke to a small business owner struggling to manage and motivate her staff. “They’re not doing a good job!” she told me. “But I don’t want to give feedback and hurt their feelings!”

So, they keep performing at lower standards, assuming that what they’re doing is A-OK – and it’s driving the owner crazy.

Work Communication Has Greater Consequences Than an Art Exhibit

Art in Bloom was a fun look at creativity and how people see the world. And while communication is also a chance to express creativity and how we see the world, we must make sure our message comes across clearly. Sharing a vision, selling a service, communicating change, saying no – cannot be left up to interpretation.


  • People start complaining
  • People tune out or withdraw
  • Employees leave
  • Prospects don’t buy
  • Expectations aren’t met
  • Stress and conflict arises

The Bottom LineCommunication interpretation 2

People need and want feedback, guidance, or to know where they stand. We can provide that information clearly and respectfully.

So, the next time you’re making or responding to a request, take time to think about what you want to say, how you want to say it and the results you want. Yes, you may disappoint people. You may even paint a beautiful picture with your words. Yet for the love of art and business, please don’t leave those words up for interpretation.

Your Turn to Talk to Me

  1. Do you have any creative hobbies or outlets?
  2. Tell me about them.
  3. What makes you go hmmm…

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Your Voice Matters. Keep Shining.

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About the blog

Humor, stories, and insights, delivered 2x per month, to perform without the pressure.

Topics include mental health, work, human connection, creativity and more.


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