Reading between the lines: Are there words in between?


As I See It


While reading per se is already a difficult subject to teach, reading between the lines is even more difficult to most people to comprehend. In one of my classes in investigative reporting and also in creative writing, I told my students to be creative, innovative, and must know how to read between the lines. Then one of my students stood up and said: “But sir… there are no words between the lines…!”

Surely, the popular idiomatic phrase “to read between the lines” may not have words between the lines (literally). It may have originated from messages actually hidden in disappearing ink or otherwise concealed between obvious lines of text. The phrase has evolved and has come to be associated with finding meaning in a text that is not obvious on a superficially done examination. The idiomatic expression applies both to written and verbal discussion or arguments. One must read between the lines to better understand what’s being relayed to the receiver of the message by the sender, written or otherwise.

In American English, to read between the lines is to find meanings that are intended but that are not directly expressed in something said or written. We need  to try to understand someone’s real feelings or intentions from what they say or write. In short, we need to infer or figure out the real or hidden meaning behind the shallow surface of the word. “Lines” refers to lines of text on a printed page or oral discourse. We need to understand what is meant by something that is not written clearly or openly. After listening to what she or he said, if you read between the lines, you can begin to see what she or he really intends to convey. Don’t believe everything you read literally, hook and sinker! Learn to read between the lines!

Again, we need to perceive or detect a hidden meaning, as in they say that everything’s fine, but reading between the lines, I suspect they have some relationship problems. This term comes from cryptography, where in one code reading every second line of a message gives a different meaning from that of the entire text.

If you read between the lines, you understand what someone really means, or what is really happening in a situation, even though it is not stated categorically.

I learned that in earlier times, to infer an unexpressed meaning was an early method of transmitting written coded messages to write the secret information in invisible ink between the lines of a document. The recipient would then learn the information by reading between the lines. The phrase came to mean gaining an insight in the context of reading something into another person’s words or behavior—and often both. suggested ways or methods how to read between the lines. Reading between the lines, or interpreting the hidden meanings of what people say, both in print and in conversations, is a skill that you can learn. While you may not always be able to figure out exactly what someone might have meant, you can get a good idea. Make sure to look at the big picture when reading between the lines. Pay attention to their words, their body language, and the situation they are in.

The website says that in analyzing what people say, you need to listen carefully. Listening closely to what people say is essential to reading between the lines. Develop your listening skills and practice them regularly. Some good listening techniques include smiling and nodding to show you are paying attention; using neutral statements to encourage the person to keep talking, such as “yes,” “I see,” and “go on; or rephrasing what the person has just said to ensure that you have understood them. For example, you might say something like, “It sounds like you are saying that you don’t think I am a very good listener. Is that right?”

The next one is take notes so that you can analyze them later. This might be time-consuming but taking notes on what someone says will allow you to return to the information later and analyze it. Write down anything that seems important or that you’d like to come back to.

Then, notice what the person does not say. What the person leaves out may be as important as what they include. After the conversation, consider whether they left out anything that you think is important. For example, if a coworker avoided talking about their progress on a special project, then they might be struggling with the project.

Of course, you need to ask for clarity. After the conversation, it is fine to ask the person about anything that was unclear to you. Be honest if you don’t understand something or if you want more information about something they said.

Similarly, in written language, you need to analyze the wordings and figure out what the writer wants to convey based on the facts or details in the story. Try to connect the sentences and check on possible meanings in between. You need to read carefully and understand the verbiage in order to read between the lines. Also find out what the writer does not include and exclude in the sentences. There are things in between the author would like to say.

Whether it is written or verbal, we need to understand how to read between the lines by utilizing the suggestions we just mentioned. Somehow, this will help you in getting what the sender of the message would really want to convey.

As Shannon L. Alder said, “Intelligence is not expecting people to understand what your intent is; it is anticipating how it will be perceived.”

In fact, Joyce Rachelle expounded on this by saying, “There is more to hear in what is not said.”

I won’t forget what Laurie Buchanan, PhD. once said, “One of the benchmarks of great communicators is their ability to listen not just to what’s being said, but to what’s not being said as well. They listen between the lines.”

This was corroborated by Dave Cenker, “There’s a much deeper and meaningful conversation being conducted in the space between the lines.”

And… Anthony T. Hinks concluded saying, “When you read between the lines, you must have bloody good eyesight because I can’t see a bloody thing!”

So, are there words between the lines? Let’s figure it out!

(For feedback and other comments, please send them to the author’s email address: [email protected]).