Activity 11 93
Activity 11
I know what you said,
but what did you mean?
This is a communications activity that is designed to identify some of the misunder-
standings that can occur when we do not think about what we are saying. It is
designed to generate discussion on the use of language and how it affects internal
working relationships.
Target Group
All support staff
To demonstrate how easily misunderstandings can occur
To illustrate that often the message we intend to give is not always the mes-
sage that is received
To develop awareness of the power of the ill-chosen word or phrase
Number of Participants
4 to 12
60 minutes
Materials and Preparation
Worksheet 11-1
Flipchart and markers
Make a photocopy of Worksheet 11-1 for each participant.
1. Introduce the objectives of the activity.
2. Divide the participants into groups of two or three.
94 50 Training Activities for Administrative, Secretarial, and Support Staff
Activity 11 (continued)
3. Give each person a copy of Worksheet 11-1, I know what you said, but what did
you mean?
4. Allow the groups 20 minutes to discuss the listed phrases and write down how
they could be misinterpreted.
5. Obtain feedback from the groups. Refer to the Notes for the Trainer on page 95
for suggested interpretations.
6. Ask the group as a whole to suggest additional examples to add to their written
7. Ask the group as a whole to suggest different ways and different circumstances
in which it is possible to mismatch the words spoken with the message
intended. Look for responses that include:
Hinting, instead of asking or requesting directly. For example, a newly
appointed team leader who is uncomfortable when delegating might say “I
wonder if you’d like to…” instead of asking directly for a task to be done.
Vague suggestions, instead of being specific. For example, someone who
feels unsure of their position might ask another person for their preference
instead of stating what is needed. “Do you want to look at the figures now?”
could mean “We need to look at the figures now.”
8. Write the responses and suggestions on the flipchart.
9. Finally, ask the group as a whole to discuss the possible impact of mismatching
spoken messages in the following areas:
Rapport-building with colleagues
Persuading and influencing others
Getting jobs and tasks done
Building cooperation
Internal customer service
Activity 11 95
Activity 11 (concluded)
Notes for the Trainer
The following are suggestions for interpreting the statements printed on Worksheet
11-1. However, accept a broad spectrum of interpretations.
1. Don’t you dare! Contradict me at your peril!
2. I know that I know better than you.
3. You’d better, or else!
4. I know you’re wrong, but I can’t be bothered to argue the point.
5. I’m going to be rude, but I don’t want you to react when I am.
6. Of course, you don’t know anything, but I can’t be bothered to argue the point.
7. I stopped listening five minutes ago.
8. I’m going to be a while.
9. I hope I never see you again.
10. You’re talking a load of rubbish.
11. Oh no! I forgot all about it!
12. …but it’s extremely unlikely.
13. I’ve given this a cursory glance.
14. You’re not going to like this…
Reproduced from 50 Training Activities for Administrative, Secretarial
and Support Staff by Elizabeth Sansom and Christine Newton, HRD Press
Worksheet 11-1
(1 of 1)
I know what you said, but what did you mean?
“I know you believe that you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure
you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
There can be a considerable difference between what is said and what is meant (or
what is being concealed). How might someone interpret the following:
Comment Interpretation
1. Correct me if I’m wrong…
2. Far be it from me to suggest…
3. I’d be grateful if you would…
4. I’m sure you’re right…
5. No disrespect, but…
6. Of course, you know best…
7. I hear what you’re saying…
8. I won’t be a minute…
9. We must have a drink some time…
10. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion…
11. We are dealing with it right now…
12. You could be right…
13. I’ve studied this in depth…
14. I’m sure you will appreciate…

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