From Merriam-Webster.com – “something that has the effect of a filter (as by holding back elements or modifying the appearance of something)”
Communication by its very nature is an exchange between two people. Without any conscious effort on the part of either individual, that which is said, and that which is heard, passes through one or more filters. These filters can be built on experience, environment, belief, and many other platforms and will affect the way we view the world around us.
Today’s communication has the added strain of brevity, short attention spans, and the various communication mediums that are part of our world. Over time, we have built an understanding and a belief system on less and less information and have allowed ourselves to filter our communication through tighter and tighter lenses.
I was recently intrigued by the rhetoric that arose after President Obama’s speech at Hiroshima, Japan. The actual text of the speech can be found here. It didn’t take long for comments to appear condemning the speech. An online news source published a picture with the following quote: “Obama does not speak for Americans. We are not sorry for saving a million lives and ending a war we did not start.” A friend of mine proceeded to comment on Facebook: “He called our dropping the bomb on Hiroshima “evil.” If that’s not an apology, . . . .” Actually, there is no apology anywhere in the text of the speech. (My friend did recant and apologize for the comment shortly after.)
However, it illustrates the problem with the way we absorb information and interact with our world. We filter our news through certain sources. In this case the source deliberately misstated the text of the speech. Rather than reading the full text and evaluating for himself, my friend chose to use the filter of this news source. We choose certain responses based on our built up beliefs about a situation or an individual because over time we have filtered everything around us to provide us with only one viewpoint.
Using examples from recent political situations is easy to do. However, the filtering process is not limited to media, politics, or current events. Interactions at work, church, and social situations are all evaluated through mental or experiential filters – whether they are intentionally chosen or not. Your work life can be particularly impacted by your filters. Your education, past work experience, and the interactions with current and former supervisors or staff members all play a role in how you might respond to a situation today or tomorrow.
Work life can be really challenging if your filter is different than a co-worker’s or a supervisor’s. Additionally, choices are made as to what filters you are going to listen to. At some point, you have to step back and recognize that you may be filtering your understanding of a situation or decision and you need additional information. I would posit that the danger increases as an individual rises in the hierarchy of an organization. The temptation is to surround oneself with those individuals who think and act like we do. And as the volume of data increases, we have to find a way to manage it so we tend to require others to synthesize it for us – creating a filter based on someone else’s perspectives.
So . . . be careful of the filters you choose intentionally. Work hard to recognize those filters that have developed subconsciously. Shed those filters that are intentionally misleading. And be prepared to do some work to get a better understanding of the data before you. In the long run it will provide you with a more complete picture and understanding.