How much of our current issue of misinformation or false news is actually misinterpretation of accurate but poorly communicated information? How much is getting lost in translation?

We’ve been pondering on the subject of language, context and communication. It is fair to say that conversation on every level is at an all-time high. The barriers of access to knowledge have been broken down. A child can self-educate to the level of Nobel Peace Prize nominated Leader for change; a woman in a small town in the outer regions of Mexico can seek legal advice from a continent away. Information is everywhere, and the world is talking to and about itself.

Two things, amongst many others, are clear: The potential for conversation that crosses political, cultural and generational boundaries has never been higher. The system for evaluating the worth of information and the knowledge of how to communicate it, without leaving it open to misinterpretation, is not yet foolproof.

Is good information being lost in translation?

Here is one example that got us thinking:

In the scientific community the use of the words ‘effective’ and ‘efficient’ can vary in intention and meaning from how we use them in everyday conversation.

  • Scientific definition of Effectiveness: Effectiveness is the capability of producing a desired result or the ability to produce desired output. When something is deemed effective, it means it has an intended or expected outcome, or produces a deep, vivid impression.
  • Scientific definition of Efficiency: Efficiency is the (often measurable) ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money, and time in doing something or in producing a desired result. In more mathematical or scientific terms, it is a measure of the extent to which input is well used for an intended task or function (output).

The way these words are commonly used in the scientific community can be easily shown by the following: if something is ‘efficient’, it is ‘productive’ but not necessarily ‘effective’, as it may not be producing the desired results.

Take a moment now to think about how you or most of us uses those words. Both are generally positive, they are considered complimentary if used to describe a person or process, and they are more descriptive than functional in the way we use them. This differs from the very specific meanings they would have within the context of a scientific discussion.

Consider this exercise:

A person on the Internet starts a conversation on a Facebook community thread. We will use “effectiveness of vaccines” for the purpose of the exercise. They are questioning something they think they know, based mostly from the news, some light Internet research and their own beliefs. A scientist who works in the area relevant to the conversation gets involved, and the two people have a lengthy discussion. The subject is along the lines of whether the current vaccines and system of ‘rollout’ are efficient.

Imagine for a moment how that conversation might sound or look. Undoubtedly ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ will be words employed by both parties in the discussion. Can you see how both or either party might leave that conversation believing they successfully exchanged information? However, our seeker has potentially gone merrily on their way believing they know more; but in reality have only increased their confidence in passing on contextless information?

Our Seeker is now telling people how very effective something is based on “a scientist I spoke to” and perpetuating it as mythically positive ­– and it goes on.

Ripples and Ramifications

This is just one perspective on one example of two words that have varied context but powerful connotations. There are infinite words and meanings and countless contexts and conversations. It is interesting to consider the wider ripples and ramifications of this and to start thinking how we, as conscious leaders, can start to make choices that can move us all towards effective global communication.

It is powerful to consider that if we increase our awareness of the language we use and how we receive and impart information, we can really start to harness the power of conversation.

I’d love for you to leave a comment with your thoughts about good information being lost in translation.

Love, Lisa


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