• Sam Decker

How to Avoid Mis-Interpretation

Have your emails ever been misconstrued?

Is it possible customers misinterpret your marketing message?

Has IT misinterpreted your requirements, or you misinterpreted their solutions document?

Are you executing correctly against the objectives in your performance plan?

Do you really understand what your spouse is asking? (rhetorical)

How accurately are people receiving what you’re trying to say? Proceed with caution when using words…even a simple statement can be disputed.

Take for example the simple sign below: “No Parking After Two-Inch Snowfall.” Patrick C. Heston, in his tongue-in-cheek article “Theology of a City Street Sign” (The Wittenburg Door), points out the many ways this sign could be understood – or misunderstood.




Is it a command (“don’t do it”) or a description (“try as you may, you won’t be able to”)?

Is it literal snow or could it allude to figurative elements including cocaine or heroin?

The sign doesn’t say where the snow must fall – what if it’s in the next country?

Does the snow have to fall all at once, or could two or three snowfalls accumulate past two inches?

What if some of the snow fell before midnight, and the rest after?

What if it snows more than two inches – is it limited to snowfalls of exactly two inches, no more, no less?

Does it mean the first snowfall of two inches after the sign goes up, or everyone after that?

Does the sign prohibit parking everywhere in the city after snow or just the streets?

If you’ve already parked before the snow falls, can you stay parked, because technically, you’re not parking after the two-inch snowfall?

Does it mean “after” in the sense of “in the manner of” – so you can’t park the way the snow falls?

You think this sounds silly? If so, perhaps you have never been part of a marketing / IT discussion. Or, perhaps you don’t have a spouse.


Suggestions: Confirm understanding. Get face to face. Look into the eyes of the other. Employ active listening. Write it down, repeat back. Make sure all parties agree on interpretation – using their own words.