How & what: When a message is being conveyed

Will you pay attention to how a message is being conveyed, or what is the message being conveyed?

Self-help books advise us to pay attention to the latter, and not just the former.

For example:
Sometimes we get distracted by the tone of speech and forget what is being said.

  1. I listen to how the message is being said to me
  2. I listen to what is the message
  3. I listen to how and what the message is being said to me

0 voters

Sorry for excessive polls from me in the past few hours.

It is actually a very complex area of communication theory, but easiest is to say that it all comes in play in concrete communication situation.
Of course, for the simple material reason, the meaning of written message is more likely to be misinterpreted because the context ( of addresser) is not certain.

The term ‘relevance’ is from the Relevance Theory. All participants expect (often unknowingly) that utterances that they process must be worthy of processing (must be ‘relevant’), and that other participants must be behaving according to this principle. When you listen to an ambiguous utterance, you’re motivated to choose the meaning that seems the most relevant to you. When your interlocutor looks you in the eye and says something that is not very clear in meaning, you’re motivated to seek for whatever relevance it may have. (For further information on Relevance Theory, see Dan Sperber’s online resource (

How the message is being said is often the message. Having someone do a one-shoulder shrug while they’re talking to you is bad news.


This is why most people in other countries think people in the US are practically autistic when it comes to communication because often we only judge the meaning of something said by the fact words were used and people of other countries often take into consideration several factors like intent, flow, emotion, etc. Like I could offend my aunt just by sending her a message that says “god damn” and that’s it with no context at all to even give it meaning. She just gets mad that I thought to use those words because it’s like she has PTSD toward words that offend her like many other Americans and just being aware the words exists is apparently unbearably painful for them.

I have nothing but contempt really for people offended by specific words who don’t care about things that actually matter in the world like disease, famine and war. My friend in Canada who is a highly experienced linguist actually feels really bad for me having to live here because of the above.

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