• Part 1 – We all have a One-Track Mind! Semantic Noise influence

  • More than men have a "one track mind"  Part One of Three on "Semantic Noise

    "A one-track mind" is a much-stated accusation women toss at men.  In fact we all have a 'one-track-mind" when it comes to interpretation of words.  "Semantic Noise" is the potential to interpret words/language only one way when multiple interpretations exist.  

    Language mis-perception and misunderstanding is called Semantic Noise.  It may be the number one cause of interpersonal misunderstanding!  As a 3-decade college professor of Interpersonal Communications, I think Semantic Noise is so powerful that the subject takes up a full-lecture-day! 

    One-Track Mind perception occurs when our brain decodes and then selects a meaning, and then defends that single interpretation.  This can occur when assumptions are made, the words themselves are not exact, or the words can be interpreted in multiple ways that change their intended meaning that were not realized.  

    Words can mean different things due in part to individual personal experience.  An example is the word "home".  Home as a word is neutral, yet you will hear it experientially.  IF you come from a warm-loving-nurturing "home", the words is nice.  If not, the word conjures another interpretation.  This is the foundation to Semantic Noise and communication attempt misinterpretations.

    Semantic Examples  - Let's view a couple funny true examples interpreting instructions: 

    1. My young niece was told to 'put away her clean-washed clothes'. She put them under the bed.  Technically she put the clothes 'away'. 
    1. My family was to meet at the "movies".  The day of the event we were at different theatres as we never said the exact spot.   We went to locations we had both previously visited and so saw different movies that day. 
    1. In a joke, a mother and daughter are having dinner and mom is pounding the bottom of a ketchup bottle to get the thick product to come out.  The daughter answers the phone and says mom is busy "hitting the bottle".  There is an unintended message and this is a classic Semantic Noise example. 

    Clearly these examples had annoying but not serious consequences.  Here's a true example demonstrating more serious interpersonal results: 

    A>  A person texted me asking if it was "hard to get into a specific college" which I had attended.  I responded "yes, it was hard for me to get in -- it's very competitive".  

     B>  Let's evaluate the words in neutral mode, communicating just what they say:

    1. "is it hard to get into that college"?
    2. "Yes, it was hard for me to get in -- it's very competitive".   

    C>  What the recipient "heard" or interpreted turned out to be added meta-messages due to their low self-esteem and negative viewpoint.  Here's what the person texted back: 

    • "You obviously have little faith in my academic abilities" and "this response damages my self-esteem."  

    D>  This example shows how complex language interpretation can become and the infinite potential of one-track thinking Semantic Noise misperception!  It became difficult to dissuade the recipient the meaning they inferred was of their own making.  The interpersonal situation is now been made more complicated by misinterpretations that were not intended nor clearly included in the message.  A unintentional insult was inferred through interpretations that are unseen and vary by individual. 

    Semantic Noise is an art form in the legal, tax and insurance professions which create semantic detail minutia.  Dissecting words into finite meaning may lead to court battles attempting to clarify 'small print' meaning. 

    Semantic Noise has huge impact on understanding each other, and the potential for language misunderstanding is greater than most realize or take-into-account when communicating.  Not only can instructions be misinterpreted but relationships can be harmed and conflict started when single false conclusions decide there was intentional offense, rejection or more.   Too often instead of checking to ensure ones' interpretation is correct, our one-track mind concludes a single intended message and create invisible but real conflict and issues. 

    In my next articles I will present  WHY Semantic Noise happens and ways to minimize it.  I'd enjoy hearing how you were helped by this information and your stories of Semantic Noise and minimizing having a One-Track-Mind! 


    Michelle Brady is a trainer/owner of Sage Forward Training, LLC and offers interpersonal-topic and communications training.   Please contact me to discuss how I can bring training to your group.


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