printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Essential Information


After you left

There was something
I had to say to you.
I was elated to find you
Waiting for me to say it
but I didn't.
I just watched you sitting there
And wondered if you already knew
Although now I wish I told
You anyway.
Because I am not sure you heard
What I didn't say.

By Marjorie Kirschenbaum


I know you think you know what I said, but did you know that what you heard wasn't what I meant? What are you talking about?

That is precisely the point! Are we saying what we mean? Are we meaning what we say? Or are we caught in a world of miscommunication?

In the Classic Paul Newman Movie "Cool Hand Luke" the actor Martin Strother delivers the famous line "What we have here, is failure .... to communicate."

The number one problem in our personal and professional relationships is failure to communicate. The issue isn't failure to talk, or that the words fail us. The issue is often that we fail to send the message we had hoped, or that the message that was sent went un-received or misunderstood. It was miss communicated.

I know you think you know what I said, but did you know that what you heard wasn't what I meant. The words are spoken. The ears hear, the brain understands because the sound waves are converted to electrical energy. Then the translation is made to recognized sounds, into words and then into the message. Was it heard? Was it understood?

The problem is that human communication is the most subtle and complex communications possible of all the animal kingdom. It is fraught with potential error. The subtle communications of color and scent that occur among other species is much less complex than even the simplest communications of our species.

Honey bee's use dance to tell direction, distance and the type of pollen sources, and they use pheromone scents to identify the role and the rank in their complex be society of Queens, drones, nurse bees, guard bees and worker bees. A dog shows its' underbelly is as sign of submission and the pack understands who is in charge and who is submissive. Who is the alpha dog, who is the beta dog and who is the zeta dog? Gorillas use body language and voice volume, tone, and pitch to demonstrate and claim dominance and superiority. Some species of monkeys and many species of birds use body color to signal sexual receptiveness and availability.

Human beings use all of these signs, signals, cues, clues, and more to communicate. Often we are more unaware of the subtle message we may be sending. Certainly, we are more often unaware of the message being received by the other person who must decode the complex, subtle coded message we are sending.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.