Shared Meaning

Effective communication is based on many principles, and one particular principle is shared meaning.  How often do we simply nod our heads in agreement, without fully and deeply listening to what someone is really saying?  We nod our heads while we are forming our response in our minds while the other person is still speaking.  The late Steven Covey (2004) urged the need for empathetic listening saying, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” (p. 239).  This notion of nodding in agreement with our heads when other people are still speaking is connected with the blog post of The Potential Tyranny of Generalities, because that nod, or that verbal agreement of “right, yeah, okay, etc.” is sometimes based on the generalized idea of what the person may be saying.  Yet, how often have we then replied from our generalized notion only to find out that we in fact were not listening carefully because of the new distinction or clarification the person made that somehow eluded our conscious awareness?  I am tempted to say that this happens fairly often, but we are good at deleting those memories.  Now what does listening carefully have to do with shared meaning?  If we are not carefully listening to others, do we really know what they mean?  What happens in organizations when deep listening is not valued?  What happens in our relationships when we do not listen intently – I am sure husbands can relate.  I know from experience that it usually does not work out so well.

Now this is not a one sided story where only those who are not carefully listening are at fault.  What about the communicator, what if they are speaking ambiguously, or not repeating important points, or clarifying what certain words mean, or rephrasing the main themes?  This points to the systemic nature of life, and in particular – communication.  Both the speaker and the listener must be able to be sensitive enough to each other by gauging and reading the context they find themselves in.

How do we listen more intently and mindfully?  How can we communicate more effectively?  How can we better generate shared meaning?


“The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing”

~ Steven Covey


Covey, S. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York, NY: Free Press.