Are people right when they say, “I know what I mean, but I just don’t know how to say it?”

Frankly, I’m going to have to say, “NO, with a maybe.”

Here’s what I’m getting at— First, when talking about emotions, then YES, one can definitely not know how to say it. Love is like a red, red, rose is about the best we can do. Emotions are given to the vagaries of feelings, not the specifics of language. Love is not a thought, therefore it can’t be described in words.

Thoughts, in fact any thought, can absolutely be conveyed with words.

Here’s a little Your Brain 101:

* We have two basic processing systems in our cerebral cortex:

1.  We process or think in pictures.

2.  We process or think in words.

It is helpful to know this because we can use our brains properly. If you are trying to understand anything structurally (or something given to being pictured in any way), then using the canvas of your mind is huge. In fact, in recalling information nothing is more helpful. A picture is indeed worth a thousand (or ten thousand) words.

Thoughts themselves, however, are really for the domain of words.  Verba Sunt Indices Animi, which means “words are the indicators of the mind or thought.”  This points out that we basically think in words…and that…words tell us what we are thinking.

Words are the stuff thoughts are made of.  The common chatter is that we think in pictures…but the chatter is a myth because it is clearly half false.

All you need to do to appreciate this point is to speak to someone who has been blind since birth.  I’m sure they can picture something, somehow; but, really it is words they use to form their thoughts and communicate their understanding and insights.


What this comes down to is that it is really not possible to have clear thoughts and poor communication.  Since the thoughts themselves are dependent on words, the thoughts must be clear enough (in words) in our own heads.  I know this sounds mildly complex, but consider it this way—

When someone communicates and doesn’t make sense, you are most likely seeing a very clear communication of muddle thoughts, rather than a muddle communication of clear thoughts.

I mean really—How can someone have crystal clear thoughts, but have no ability to share outwardly the same words she thinks these thoughts with?


If you grasp this distinction in a deeper way, you will see the clear implication that you need only clear up your thoughts to become a far more effective communicator.  If people aren’t quickly grasping what you are saying, the FIRST place to look is your own mind.  It’s easy enough just to ask a couple of questions:

1.  Is my audience (or the other person) getting what I’m saying?

2.  Can I explain it to myself in a way that is crystal clear?

That get’s you a long way down the road as a communicator.


Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand

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