Words Count and Perceptual Filters Matter

It's not just what you say - it's how you say it that matters, just as much and sometimes more so.

Words are powerful and can help you communicate your message in a way that elicits the intended impact. This lesson was illustrated beautifully in a viral video. I'll add a bit more, but first, I'll let you watch it:

Family drama, perception, and fishing

I really enjoyed this video, and found its 'Words Count' message profound and moving. It illustrates also that you can tell a story without a lot of words and still have a powerful effect. As I often do with videos and articles that I enjoy, I shared it - with my friends on Facebook, and also with my family. The conversation that ensued in a string of back-and-forth emails with my family caught me off guard and reinforced for me another lesson, which I'd like to share: Perception Matters.

What I saw in that video was the key message that HOW you phrase your message can have a meaningful effect (positive or negative) on how your message is received and the results you get. I saw secondary messages in this video but did not choose to focus on them. However, a couple of my family members had a very different reaction. They pointed out that the woman in the video did not give the beggar any money (true). They said she seemed like the stereotypical cold, aloof businesswoman who came and implemented a 'process improvement hack' on the beggar to elicit greater monetary results (true). They also said that when she came back to see how things changed as a result of her hack, that it was almost surprising she didn't charge the beggar a commission for her 'consulting' work.

This was not my intended impact. I could have focused on those interpretations, but I did not. Also, I do not believe that it is proper for this man to sit and ask for alms in the first place, and this video may seem to condone it. So by sending it, I could be seen as somehow condoning begging and supporting the act of enabling begging by giving beggars money. But it wasn't the point.

This difference in interpretations shows that what we see is SELECTIVE and is always filtered through our unique lens. Our perspective, life experiences, biases, mood, culture, and many other factors are always at work as we perceive the world around us and especially as we communicate with each other. Therefore, there is a strong likelihood that our communication partners are NOT seeing and hearing things in the same way that we did because they have different perceptual filters working. This is a concept I often teach my coaching, facilitation, and training clients when I explain to them the power of the Ladder of Inference (see more about this in my next blog post).

This is where fishing comes in (in case you were wondering why I included it in the title of this section). I believe that even though the executive in the video did not give the beggar some change, she gave him something much more valuable - she improved his ability to get his message across in a more positively impactful way. This allowed him to exponentially improve his results - much more powerful than the impact of adding a few coins to his jar. There is an old proverb we have all heard that fits here beautifully:

"Give a man a fish, and you've fed him for a day; Teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime."

So, how did you first interpret the video? Did you have a similar reaction to me or to my contrarian family members? And how have you experienced the power of words in your life? Or the power of perceptual filters? I'd love to read about it in the blog comments below!

P.S. To add to this story, I later read some of the comments on the YouTube site for the above video and discovered that this short film is a copy of the original Mexican Short Film: Historia de un letrero, (The Story of a Sign). It is almost identical! Is this plagiarism? I do not know. Here is the original, for your viewing pleasure: 

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