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Opinions of Monday, 2 April 2018

Columnist: Georgina Asare Fiagbenu

If I were to ask you to say what you mean and mean what you say

Do you make time to play back some of the conversations you have with people? Do you stop sometimes to reflect on your statements and how it is processed by other people? When you speak, do you mean what you say and say what you mean?

The reason why I am asking all these questions is that I have noticed that not everybody takes what they say seriously. I have also come to the conclusion that very often and especially in informal conversations some people don’t mean what they say.

Your statements tell a lot about you. It shows who you are, your beliefs, orientation, preferences, values and it tells your worldview and where you are going. It shows whether you are in a good place or not.

When I interact with people I can immediately tell the kind of person they are after a few rounds of conversations. Imagine meeting someone and asking how he is doing? He immediately responds that everything is fine. Just when you start chatting he starts talking about how sick, weak and helpless he is. So what did that person mean when he said he was fine? Was it just a reflex response he gave?

Another question that attracts a hurried response is “how are things” or “how is life”? The response that follows this question is “Everything is fine or things are cool.’’ Depending on the time of the day and where the person is, the response will be different for someone. If the question is asked by a friend the respondent may give a straightforward answer. If it is asked by a person who is perceived to be rich the answer will be framed to elicit sympathy or some form of assistance. If it is asked on the radio it may elicit a political response about how the previous or current government did or did not do something right and which has resulted in the person's current difficulties in life.

The other thing very peculiar about our communications is our response to some basic questions. For example, when you meet someone on his way out of a place and you ask where he is going, the answer you receive is “I am coming”. Although the person says he is coming he is actually going to a destination he usually doesn’t want to talk about. When you meet the person later and you ask him where he went the response will be ‘’I went somewhere.’’ My understanding of this question is that I went to a place I am not willing to disclose.

Closely related to this is the response “I am coming right now”. When you are with someone and the person says “wait for me, I am coming right now’’, it means the person will probably be out for a few hours. Don’t stay waiting for the person unless you have nothing doing. I am coming right now could actually mean “I am sorry, I have another appointment I cannot miss, see you later.

One of the observations I have also made is with regards to how people communicate in Ghana is how they describe people. I think most people in Ghana are not willing to let you know you don’t look good when that is the case. When you dress up and are not sure how you look be careful who you ask for an opinion. The standard answer is likely to be “oh you look very good.

This could be the opposite. My own advice on this is that when you dress up to make sure you have taken a good look at yourself and that you are quite comfortable or happy with what you have on. Perhaps the reason why people find it difficult to give an honest opinion is that some people get angry when you say it as it is. But I think some Ghanaians cannot simply look at people in the face and tell them the truth. This could be a cultural attribute because some people say Nigerians are more direct than we are.

This communication challenge I am describing also affects how we assess situations. When you execute a project don’t be surprised if you don’t get accurate feedback. For some people, all you can get from them is “oh it was okay”, or it was fine. It is difficult to tell what exactly what it is – does it mean excellent, very good, poor or average. I normally will provide responses for them to choose from. There is a general problem with how we use words and what we mean by saying what we say and this sadly is reflected in our attitudes.

Our inability to provide definite responses is worrying and extends to governance. This is why in Ghana a lot of leaders keep on talking about projects in “the pipeline”. The number of projects that are stuck in the pipeline is uncountable. The pipeline appears to be choked already. Let’s not add to it. Perhaps we need a major shaking or bulldozer to move the things that are stuck there to give way to other projects to flow.

It is in these same instances that we have been told that “plans are far advanced” for Ghana to do better in many areas. What is that supposed to mean? Why can’t we just communicate specific dates, timelines and details of when a project will be initiated or completed and implement it?

The big deal for me is that we must say what they mean and mean what they say. Every word we say counts and we must reflect on what we say and take whatever we communicate seriously. Our Communications defines who we are and what we represent and we must take it more seriously than we are doing right now.