responding to what is being said versus felt

Are you responding to what is being said, or, to what you are feeling? (Effective Communication Series)

by Joshua Nave LLMSW

“I hear what you are saying, but to me, it sounds like you are actually saying ___________ .”  Has someone ever said this to you before?  I have been hearing this statement more and more often, whether that be in person speaking with a person directly, over the phone, but especially when communicating via social media.  The question I am exploring in this blog is: “Are you responding to what you think you are hearing, or, are you responding to what you are feeling?

Before going further, let’s take time to review the general process of communication.  To begin with, communication starts with an idea, or the original intended message (Psychology Wiki, 2020).  This idea forms in the mind of the sender, which is the person initiating the communication, and is then sent to the recipient, the person being communicated with.  Once the recipient receives the idea, the recipient must then decode the message, or, we could say “understand it.”  While the preceding process may sound simple, the whole process can actually be quite treacherous, as many things can go wrong along the way.

Let us discuss decoding:  It is the process of decoding that we find ourselves asking again: “Am I responding to what is being said, or, what I am feeling?”  Because in this part you are attempting to determine the meaning of the original message.  Human beings internalize the message at this stage, relying on information that they have gained through their life as well as their five senses to determine the meaning of the message.  The human mind will quickly pull information from sources based upon what it heard, what the words mean, the tone or speed of the speaker, but also through possible filters, such as: Do I like this person? Am I afraid of being wrong? Or do I like what is being said (Marchant, 2013)?  This is quite a small portion of what can take place in determining the meaning in a message.  All of this takes place in a matter of seconds, and then at this point, the recipient may choose to respond.

With all the sources of information we use to interpret information, are we really responding to what is being said, or, to what we are “feeling” about what is said?  An example would be the following, “Snakes are reptiles.”  On the surface of this, the only information provided is simply that snakes are reptiles, but it’s likely that some of you had feelings of fear, revulsion, or chills when you read that statement. While other people may have actually had feelings of joy, peace, and so forth after reading the same statement.  The statement itself never made mention to any of these feelings, and yet, we still feel them based upon our own understanding, perspective, history, and other factors.  It is at this point that we are in danger of responding to the message based upon our feeling that came up over what was said, instead of what was actually said.  “Snakes are gross!”  Which can lead many to thinking, “what does have to do with snakes being reptiles?”  On the most basic level, should the sender and recipient continue to respond based off of their emotions, it is completely possible that they will have two completely different conversations, one based on what the sender is trying to communicate, and the other, based on what the receiver wishes to respond to.

In conclusion, it is important that for effective communication, whether it be with friends, family, co-workers, or even strangers, it is important for us to ask the question: “Am I responding to what is being said, or, to what I feel about what was said?”  While our emotions are extremely important for us, as they reveal what is important to us, effective communication asks that you notice your emotions for what they are and respond to the message based on what it is.  As more and more conversations are pointing to changes that are needed in the United States, remember that you can be most effective in contributing to the conversation by noticing what your emotions are and striving to understand what message is being conveyed.

In future blogs, I will be discussing techniques to better identify your emotions during conversation, as well as psychological phenomena that take place when we inappropriately assume that other people feel the same way we do.  Remember, understanding what a person said doesn’t mean you need to feel differently, nor that your emotions are wrong, it is simply one of the most important parts of effective communication.


Psychology. (2020). False consensus effect.

Psychology Wiki. (2020). Communication.

Marchant, J. (2013). A short piece about how we interpret communication.

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