Is there a sub-text?

Chinese words

Chinese words

Elsewhere, someone has written a blog on the following quote from George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I am in the middle of such an example myself.

I wrote in a Facebook forum asking for help with a problem a friend was having. One person replied asking me to call him on his mobile number. But another person wrote saying it was not the only option. Just that. He did not specify what the alternative might be.

Concerned not to offend the first person, I wrote privately to the second person, asking what other options there might be. He chided me for writing privately about a matter I had already put out in the open. That set me back on my heels, so I paused to reflect on the crossed wires.

Why were we at odds over this? Perhaps it was a cultural difference. Perhaps it was my Oriental background that prompted me to consider the possibility of giving offence by going after some alternative, having just had one offer of help.  I also considered the possibility of person no.2 wanting to dismiss the offer of person no.1.

Let me clarify that I would have had no problem in accepting a specific alternative offer. The problem, in my mind, was in seeking, publicly, an alternative to the first offer — appearing to look over the shoulder of the first person for something better, by asking, openly, for some other option.

It may seem a tiny distinction, and person no.2 went on to write that ”Sometimes it’s worth considering that what is said can be a simple statement of all that is to be said, without subtext.” So my attempt at sparing the feelings of one helper has got me into trouble with a second one.

In the areas of diplomacy and negotiations, isn’t the subtext often the more important communication? Shouldn’t you consider that your “simple statement of all that is to be said” may unwittingly carry some more important subtext?

It happens all the time in cross-cultural communication.


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