What is shared meaning? The phrase is bandied about a lot, but little understood and rarely defined. Let’s take a look at it.
There are two dimensions to the phrase.
We use the same language
We take for granted that our words convey exactly what we intend them to. This is a particularly misinformed assumption.
I have observed that upon deeper scrutiny, the words, let alone the concepts, tend not to be received in the way the messenger anticipates. …
How can we discuss or argue the virtues of something when we are speaking differing languages? …
Language only represents thoughts, beliefs and experiences, and should not be taken as a literal and objective fact.
Credit: Mel Schwartz
Whenever we have a conversation with someone, we express opinions and perspectives on the world and in doing so we use many words and phrases, idioms and metaphors that have unclear or fuzzy meanings.
The meaning of many of these words and phrases are also contextually dependent.
And in a multicultural world where we are talking across cultures and often in English where English is not the native tongue of all of the speakers, it is not too surprising that we fail to communicate.
So first, it is about the words and the concepts themselves.
Shared meaning means that the words we use mean the same to each of us or that we understand how each of us uses words differently and take that into account in our conversations. At a deeper level, it means that we understand the different values, beliefs, and emotions that we each give to and associate with words.
It also means that we have a similar understanding of the concepts we talk about.
We understand each other’s perspectives
The second dimension goes deeper. To achieve shared meaning we do not have to agree with each other as long as we have understood each other’s perspectives on an issue.
Shared meaning does not mean that everyone in the conversation sees things in the same way.
Shared meaning means each stakeholder in the conversation shares what is meaningful to them as it pertains to creating the desired future those in the conversation are seeking to create.
Shared meaning occurs when people understand each other’s perspectives well enough to accept them as legitimate in the context of exploring and realizing a desired future.
Credit: Ken Homer
Shared meaning means that people understand each other’s perspectives well enough to accept them.
It is far from easy to achieve shared meaning. There is only one way of going about it and that’s through face-to-face conversation.
- Blog Post: Shared Meaning by Mel Schwartz
- Blog Post: Creating understanding – finding shared meaning by Ken Homer
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