What people tell you directly is always different from how others would relate that message. Any important and somewhat complex message you receive indirectly, through a third person, is bound to be incorrect. This is especially true when the subject matter is not neutral, when the conveyer has an agenda or an interest, or is under stress. Basically, one should never completely believe anyone representing a third person’s opinion. With two people in between, I often cannot recognize my initial message if it comes back to me. Many times, people to whom I convey what someone told me they said have the same reaction.
Why is this? - Certainly not because people lie. In fact, very few people lie. There are not many good natural liars, and the ability to lie flawlessly usually speaks of neurosis or mental problems. For a regular person, it is very difficult to lie effectively, and takes an enormous effort and incredible memory. Because information is shared so freely and so often, a deliberate lie will come to surface, with embarrassing consequences. We all know that.
Nor do people often misrepresent other’s words intentionally. This happens more often than direct lies, but it still cannot account for the amount of errors in transmission. But any informational transaction involves an act of interpretation. And that act is not neutral to what we want, what we afraid of, and what we already know and believe. You will literally hear what you hear differently depending on who is speaking, and what opinion you have of the speaker. If you built a theory of the other person that deems his or her incompetent, and that person reports on a problem, you will automatically assume it is his or her own fault. If you do not trust the other person’s intentions, almost anything she or he says will be perceived - and transmitted to others – as deceitful or ill-intentioned.
It also depends on what you want from this interaction. For example, if you ask for a permission, and the answer is “no”, your mind will go into a process of looking for a ways of not hearing the “no,” and finding any possible “maybe’s.” Let it go for a while, and the subconscious mind will do the trick by literally re-arranging your memories of the conversation. And of course, the transmitter almost never says “no” in a way that leaves no room for interpretation. It would be impolite and offensive. So the room for more interpretation is always there.
The speakers are also attuned to what the receiver of the message hopes to hear. So we all edit our message just a little to please whoever is the listener right now. Therefore the same exact message conveyed to another person will sound slightly different. We have the instant editing machine in our brain that will alter our words an instance they leave the mouth.
There are many of these small corrections, which accumulate over the number of transmissions, and which actually become larger with the passage of time, as we rearrange and re-organize our memories. None of us can remember verbatim what the other person had said, so we need to re-tell the story in our own words; this very act introduces more errors. Thus a message “but this is the kind of reasoning the Nazi were using to justify their policies” becomes “oh, she compared you to the Nazi.”
We all need to avoid indirect transmissions of sensitive messages to the extent possible. “Why don’t you ask him?” or “It is better if she explains this to you” are phrases we should use more often. When in doubt, go to the source, and verify. And never act on a message you did not receive directly from the sender. “He said, she said” is a red alert cue. A n utterance that begins with one of these qualifiers can never be trusted for anything other than simple, factual messages. In conflict, always hear both or all sides directly. It is not easy to achieve, but there is little choice.