Miscommunication - Why it Happens and How to Avoid it

Miscommunication happens when the meaning we attach to what other people say, isn't what they intended. It can lead to all sorts of difficulties.

Miscommunication and Misunderstanding

Miscommunication, according to the Cambridge Dictionary “is the failure to communicate ideas or intentions successfully”. Miscommunication leading to misunderstandings is a common problem regardless of how good a communicator you think you are. Miscommunication happens in all areas of life with our partners, friends and work colleagues. But why do we miscommunicate?

Assumptions and Perceptions lead to misunderstandings

When I was training for my NLP Master Practitioner, Clinical Hypnosis and later when studying for my Diploma in Couple and Relationship Counselling with Relate, how we communicate and interpret what we hear was integral to all aspects of the courses.

We miscommunicate because of how we have experienced life. Although we know that everybody has had a different life experience we also forget all about it most of the time. When we are communicating with someone else we tend to think they will immediately understand and grasp what we are saying and how we are saying it. And the same happens when others speak to us.

Filters that lead to miscommunication

How we interpret what we are hearing is filtered. Those filters include:

  • Generalisations
  • Distortions
  • Deletions
  • Time
  • Beliefs
  • Culture
  • Experiences
  • Amount of information
  • Level of detail

In NLP we believe that the “Meaning of the Communication is the Response You Get”. Just think about that for a moment. How many times have you blamed the other person for deliberately misunderstanding you? It was not deliberate, they filtered what you said through their own life experiences and responded in a manner you didn’t expect. You then filtered that response through your own filters and so on. It’s a wonder we manage to get anything done, isn’t it?

Communication Breakdown Leads to increased Stress

When I work with clients, particularly those who have work-related stress, miscommunication is often a key part of why they are stressed. Once we’ve started to misunderstand and become frustrated or irritated by a colleague or manager, we are already preparing ourselves for feeling that way. We go on the defence. Unfortunately, that can mean the other person can become defensive and the situation worsens.

Ways to Improve Your Communicating

There are many many ways you can start improving your communication, including:

Active Listening - listen with your eyes and ears and feelings. Communicating is more than what we say and hear.

Reflect and Acknowledge - Showing that you have listened by reflecting back to the other person what they said. Recognising their perspective can improve how the conversation goes.

I felt, I feel - Using these words to open a sentence, such as, “I felt ‘x’ when you said ‘y’...” can help remove the blame and allow for a conversation rather than a confrontation. This is used in non-violent communication.

I came across this great video on TED-Ed about miscommunication. I hope you find it helpful.

If you are struggling with miscommunication, whether at work or in your personal life, get in touch.

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Categories: : Stress