Clarity and Inconsistency - John C. Wunsch, P.C.
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Clarity and Inconsistency

Misread signals, miscommunication, divergent interpretations––the disconnect between the speaker’s message and the listener’s response. Any number of reasons might explain this.

Comprehension. The listener does not understand what’s being expressed. It could be the terminology being used is tied to a particular specialty. It could be the message itself expresses a thought foreign to the listener. It could be the words used are equivocal, uncertain, or ambiguous. A speaker during an opening statement says, “The late decelerations were indicative of the onset of hypoxia, necessitating the performance of an emergent caesarian section.” Just about every word in that sentence is medical terminology, virtually insuring that it will not be understood.

Expectation. The listener has a different expectation than the speaker. Context matters. Is the speaker providing information or seeking to persuade? What verbal and non-verbal cues are being used? If the listener has an expectation that’s not being met, the listener will lack the motivation necessary to enable the communication to succeed. A highly motivated listener––that’s really it. The unspoken subtext and purpose of any effective speech––to convert an indifferent onlooker into a motivated listener.

Ambiguity. The listener interprets the message in a manner different than intended. A speaker during an opening statement says, “We will prove to you the defendant was negligent.” The listener has never been informed of the legal definition of negligence and interprets the word as requiring some form of purposeful culpability.

“Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.” ––Hermann Hesse. Hearing is implicated as is the mental process required to convert verbal sounds into understandable phrases. A speaker is asking for something evanescent, precarious, and transient––another’s attention. Attention, as we know, can dissolve in the blink of an eye––all that’s needed is a momentary distraction. Are your words and phrases capable of surviving the onslaught? Have you connected? How strong are the wires and cables? Will they hold?

Body language, demeanor, even facial gestures can make a difference. Researchers have hypothesized “enhanced processing costs” when facial expressions do not correlate with emotions:

“Commonly, emotional facial expressions temporally precede vocal expressions of emotion in human interactions and thus allow us to predict some characteristics of the ensuing auditory signal, such as its temporal onset and some acoustic properties. However, if for example an angry face precedes a vocal expression of happiness, the prediction is violated, leading to enhanced processing costs…We could therefore hypothesize that emotional information in the face (e.g., a smile) leads to the prediction that the ensuing vocal stimulus will be of a certain quality (e.g., rather high-pitched) and thereby facilitates auditory processing if this prediction is fulfilled.”[1]

Inconsistency in message is equally as harmful. If two conflicting messages are being asserted––the defendant had knowledge, the defendant was unaware––each will cancel the other out. A coherent theory has to make behavioral as well as psychological sense. Clarity and inconsistency––probably two areas taken for granted. A clear verbal statement actually requires no small degree of thought and planning. Things appear clear and consistent only after they’ve been harvested, ingathered, organized. Keep at it, persevere, don’t assume––there’s more to it than you would think. Simplicity, it turns out, is not that simple.

[1] Patricia Garrido-Vásquez, Marc D. Pell, Silke Paulmann, Sonja Kotz, Dynamic Facial Expressions Prime the Processing of Emotional Prosody, Front. Hum. Neurosci. 12 June 2018