This is the assumption that meaning resides in the speaker, when in fact it resides in the listener. For me to make meaning I need to draw out what I think you are saying from my vault of experiences, specifically from the hippocampus, where memory is stored in the limbic system, or emotional brain; or I may draw from the neocortex, where I store memories of what to do and how to do it. My brain will pull the meaning from my experiences and I then bring them into the conversation to make sense of what I hear. That’s why “in my mind’s eye” I can see a totally different picture of what you are saying than what your mind sees. Meaning resides in the listener until the speaker takes the time to validate and link back to make sure both have the same picture and shared meaning.

I don’t think this statement needs a lot of affirmation. It’s pretty easy to accept with a bit of consideration.

Here’s my request. Recognize that we do this. That we make long leaps and grand jumps from what we think we heard (already suspect) to what we think we know about what we heard. And all of this is happening internally having NOTHING to do with the person trying to communicate with us.

This afternoon, when getting a seemingly strange answer from an employee, tonight, when you go home to the kids, later, when you’re with the loved one you’re used to, take a moment and listen. And then take another moment and check-in with yourself, then them on what they were really trying to convey.

Thanks! You are all awesome! Just keep reminding yourself to act that way.

The assumption that we remember what others say when we actually remember what we think about what others say. Researchers have concluded two things. One is that we drop out of conversations every twelve to eighteen seconds to process what people are saying; two, we often remember what we think about what another person is saying because that is a stronger internal process and chemical signal. In other words, our internal listening and dialogue trumps the other person’s speech.

Did you know that we drop out of conversations every twelve to eighteen seconds to process what people are saying to us? Yeah, we do. We do that because we prefer to remember what we think about what another person is saying rather than what a person is actually saying. We have a strong internal process and chemical signaling to listen to ourselves and trust what we think we already know rather than to learn something new. In other words, our internal listening and dialogue trumps the other person’s speech.

Part of the reason for this is what’s called an availability heuristic. Here, I’m going to digress from my point for the sake of interest and a bit of psychological science. We’ll get back to it.

An availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind. When you are trying to make a decision, a number of related events or situations might immediately spring to the forefront of your thoughts. As a result, you might judge that those events are more frequent and possible than others. You give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar things happening in the future.


  • After seeing news reports about people losing their jobs, you might start to believe that you are in danger of being laid-off. You start lying awake in bed each night worrying that you are about to be fired.
  • After seeing several television programs on shark attacks, you start to think that such incidences are relatively common. When you go on vacation, you refuse to swim in the ocean because you believe the probability of a shark attack is high.
  • After reading an article about lottery winners, you start to overestimate your own likelihood of winning the jackpot. You start spending more money than you should each week on lottery tickets.

As fallible and plastic as our minds are, we tend to subconsciously favor them over our objective facts. And be clear. reliable statistical evidence will outperform the availability heuristic every time.

What’s happening here is that we are basing our answer of probability on how available relevant examples are to us. In case you’re interested, although the availability heuristic is a natural process in how we think, two Chicago scholars have explained just how wrong it can be.

The lesson here? Whenever possible, look at the facts. Examine the data. Don’t base a factual decision on your gut instinct without at least exploring the data objectively first.

Taking this information and layering it into this sandwich of interpretation we’ve been building, I’m shocked we hear anything anyone ever says to us! Clearly, we are social creatures and have a strong interest in working together.

So, a recap… If you are a leader or a manager if you are a human who wants to appear to like people if you actually do like other people you want to remain aware that we are crappy listeners. And, building our listening and communication skills takes a bit of consciousness, awareness and inner peace.

These things may be gained through mindfulness exercises, through active listening, and with any technique you can think of that helps you slow down and be present to what you are doing when you're doing it with other people.

I wish you great luck. I know I struggle with these issues every day 🙂

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