Failing to communicate properly can lead to difficult situations and unpleasant feelings. If we learn to communicate fluently, we can build mutual understanding. Have you ever tried explaining something clearly to the best of your abilities and the other person still doesn’t understand you? Have you ever been confronted with miscommunication in a relationship? Has someone ever interpreted your message differently than you intended? It can be frustrating not to understand each other or experience a complete breakdown of your communication.
There are countless reasons why miscommunication may occur, why we may not understand each other or why it may be difficult to talk to each other.
For example, there are some notable differences between written communication and verbal communication. In written communication, there is a high chance of miscommunication since we don’t see or hear each other, which means we can’t see facial expressions or hear intonations in the voice of the other person.
Sometimes, we may misunderstand each other because we expect the other person to read through the lines. This can cause the other person to interpret your message in the wrong way than you intended.
What causes miscommunication? In this article, I share four common causes of miscommunication and how we can try to avoid these communication problems.
4 common causes of miscommunication
1. We listen to respond, not to understand
One of the reasons miscommunication happens is because we don't really listen to each other. You hear the things the other person is saying, but are you really listening? When someone else is talking, we are often already thinking about a response. We may share something about ourselves or give our opinion about something the other person just shared. While this can lead to an interesting conversation or discussion in some situations, it doesn't always create the ideal situation.
Sometimes, the person you are having a conversation with needs a listening ear. And it can be irritating if people don't really listen or if they give you advice instead. In every conversation, it is important to really listen to what the other person has to say because you reduce the chances of missing something or mishearing. Listening intently also allows you to be in the present moment. This sounds very logical, but is not so easy for many of us. Do you really listen when you talk to someone else?
2. Our expectations influence our communication
When we talk to other people, we automatically have expectations. We need something, we want a listening ear, we want attention, we want to know the other's opinion or get advice, we want to share something, philosophize or say something for fun.
Whatever it is, there is always an intention behind what we share. Of course, this happens unconsciously and we don't think about it. The hard part is that the per
son we're sharing with doesn't always know our intent and so may respond in a different way than what we need or expect. This can create friction in communication.
3. We do not communicate sufficiently or clearly enough
Sometimes we don't say everything we want to say, we don't use all the words, or we don't share all the details. Of course it’s not always necessary to share all the details. Sometimes there is no time for it or it can be very inconvenient. But the other person may also need more information to fully understand you.
What happens regularly, especially with couples who have been together for a long time, is that they already assume that the other understands what they need or mean. This can be wonderful, to understand each other without many words. However, it can also be a pitfall that leads to miscommunication. That's why it's always important not to take each other for granted, in any relationship, because we never quite know each other.
4. We are different and we see the world differently
Every person in this world sees and experiences the world differently. That's what makes us so unique and that's what makes it very interesting. At the same time, that can cause problems. We always start from our own frame of reference, our own perspective, our own experiences. We often forget that the other person is different, experiences the world differently, has had different experiences and has grown up differently (even if she/he comes from the same family). When we communicate with each other, we start from our own 'mental models'. But the way the other person sees and experiences the world or the mental models from which the other person views things can be very different. This means that even two people who experience the same situation can say very different things about it afterwards or have experienced it very differently.
This can create difficult situations in communications. As a result, people sometimes can’t understand each other at all, even though they try their best. When you communicate with someone who walks around with different worldviews or mental models, there are certain inherent beliefs or assumptions that are different. This can make us want to convince others of our worldview. And that’s sometimes even the start of a conflict. It is difficult for us to accept this diversity in thoughts and worldviews, but it is an important step to healing our communication problems
What can you do to prevent miscommunication?
How do you resolve miscommunication? There are several ways to avoid this. The tips below expand on the reasons for miscommunication explained above. There are four questions to ask yourself:
Am I listening?
When you're talking to someone, ask yourself: ‘am I really listening?’ Or am I busy with myself and my own thoughts? And actually reacting more than anything else? If it is difficult for you to reflect on this during the conversation, you can also take a moment afterwards: did I really listen? The more often you reflect and actively do this, the better you can adjust your listening posture. You can also observe whether this changes your communication with people or whether people react to you differently.
What do I expect?
The question 'what do I expect?' is especially important to ask when the message does not reach the other person or when some kind of tension or conflict is arising. It is interesting to know your intention behind a particular conversation and what you need or expect. Just because you have expectations doesn't automatically mean that the other person should meet them as well.
Checking your expectations can bring a lot of clarity to a situation. Once you know your expectations better, you may be able to communicate in a different, more effective way. Understanding and accepting that someone else may not be able to live up to this expectation gives room for some softness.
Have I explained enough?
Don't assume that the other person will understand you just by sharing a few words. The other doesn't live in your head, so they can't know everything you’re thinking. The danger of not sharing enough information is that the other person can start making assumptions.
It's good to check yourself: did I say this clearly? Have I given enough information for the other person to understand? Did I ask a question? This is especially important in situations where you need something from the other or really expect a response. If you ask yourself these questions, there is a better chance that communication problems will not arise. If you want to convey a message clearly, it is good to state things clearly and explicitly instead of being sarcastic, implicit or figurative.
How do I see the world?
When you feel that someone else does not understand you or when you are faced with a conflict, think: how do I see the world and how does the other person see the world? How do I see the situation and how does the other person see the situation?
Sometimes it is difficult for us to understand how other people can see the same situation so differently, but it is important to accept these differences in worldviews and mental models. Especially in conflict. This doesn't mean you have to agree. This is also not to say that you should continue to nurture the relationship if the differences are too difficult for you. But accepting diversity and that we are all different is crucial to restore harmony and balance.
When was the last time you had a misunderstanding or a communication problem? How did you deal with it then? Is there anything you would do differently now?
As always I’m curious about your experiences and reactions! You can always email me or respond in the comments below.
Lots of love