Communication Confusion: 10 Reasons Why It Happens

We are communicating with somebody about something all day long. Communication is central to our modern lives, isn’t it? Unfortunately, so much of it doesn’t go well. Why? Because a lot of what we say and write isn’t crystal clear to the other party. We can cite various examples of communication problems, but most if not all boil down to lack of clarity. Pure and simple. This article highlights ten reasons behind the constant confusion.

1. We leave important steps out of a process.

Did you ever give directions to a stranger and fail to tell him to turn left at a critical landmark? Perhaps you didn’t mention the landmark because it’s part of your everyday scenery that you take for granted. But that landmark, completely unfamiliar to the person, is essential for him to spot as he makes his way toward his desired destination. It doesn’t matter how great your overall directions were if you forgot to tell him about the landmark.

2. We talk in circles.

When you talk in circles, you usually don’t know what you are really trying to say. You, yourself, are unclear. If you are not clear, how can you communicate something to another individual in a way she can understand? It’s virtually impossible. Know what your main point is and state it. Offer a few details that support your point. Then wrap up by restating your point in a little bit different way. This process makes logical sense, and most people can follow it. Think of it as driving your car from one city to another via a major, direct route rather than going out of your way on several twisting, winding two lane roads.

3. We don’t provide necessary information.

If your spouse asks you to describe the kind of birthday cake you most desire and you don’t tell him that you prefer whipped frosting, don’t be surprised if you end up with a cake that’s iced with butter cream. If that happens, it’s not your spouse’s fault. It’s your fault. In this case you left out a very necessary piece of information. As a result, you didn’t receive your dream cake. You weren’t specific enough in your description. Maybe you got a fabulous chocolate gateau, but you also got frosting you don’t really like.

4. We imply one thing but mean another.

It’s a beautiful early spring day. Several times throughout the afternoon you mention how lovely it would be to dine on the porch. When it’s time to eat supper, you are surprised to see the picnic table set for two. A breeze is now blowing, and the air is crisp. You have no interest in eating outside where you know you’ll be uncomfortably cold. When you express concern to your partner, she becomes angry. She says she was only trying to please you. You tell her that you were merely fantasizing when you talked about dining outdoors. She took your comments literally, and that created the problem.

5. We speak too softly.

If you speak so softly the other person cannot hear you correctly, then you risk misunderstanding. The other person may only pick up pieces of what you say. As a result, she will fill in the gaps with what she believes is appropriate. The content she contributes to the conversation may or may not be accurate. If it’s just simple, friendly banter back and forth, this may not be an issue. But if you were telling her how to prepare a certain recipe, it’s a very different matter. If you are someone who talks extremely softly on a regular basis, ask yourself why you do that and what the consequences could be.

6. We talk about a topic with a familiarity the other person lacks.

You’ve been working on a project at the office for many weeks now. You know the details inside out, backwards and forwards. This morning you ask a colleague to handle a particular task related to this project, but you fail to convey important history related to the piece he needs to deal with. A few hours later you discover that he approached the task in a manner you would not have chosen had you done it yourself. You are furious. You cannot move forward with this work until you undo what your colleague did. As a result, the project won’t be completed on time.

7. We don’t ask clarifying questions.

Your boss assigned you a certain task, and you are 85% sure about how to proceed. The other 15%? Well, you’re rather fuzzy about that part. But you decide to go ahead and do the task anyway. Throughout the day you wonder if you are doing the right thing. You are worried but keep on working. At the end of the day you show your boss what you have done. When she tells you how disappointed she is, you feel terrible. If you had only asked those questions that were circling around in your mind… before you started.

8. We use nebulous words.

One of your employees produces mediocre work on a consistent basis. You haven’t been satisfied with her performance for quite a few months. Today is her annual performance appraisal, and you need to confront the situation. Once you and she are in your office together, you tell her that you think she is capable of doing better work. When she directly asks you if you are unhappy with the job she is doing, you shift in your chair, swallow hard, and say “not exactly”. You just believe she could slow down and focus more so fewer mistakes are made. You never look her in the eye and tell her that she needs to improve in the following specific ways by a certain date.

9. We assume the other person knows what we are referring to.

Staff meeting has just ended, and you are walking out of the conference room with a colleague you trust. You say something like, “It was a little chilly in there, wasn’t it?” The colleague stares at you blankly, unsure what you mean. You then say, “Chilly. As in Bob.” Again the blank stare. At this point you say, “Well, Bob was clueless, don’t you think?” Now it’s clear that your colleague has no idea what you are referring to. He’s desperately trying to follow you but isn’t successful. You walk off, judging him to be dense.

10. We don’t finish the thought.

You are heading out to the parking lot after a long, hard day at work. One of your office friends falls into step with you and asks how you’re feeling. You respond by saying you are okay, but you wish that….Your friend looks at you with a questioning expression, hoping you will offer something more. Then you say that work would be less stressful if….but you never finish the sentence. The next day you are frustrated because your friend didn’t implement the idea you had in mind. The problem lies in the fact that you didn’t communicate fully. You knew what you were thinking but never shared the complete thought. After all, you can’t expect people to read your mind.

By Sylvia D. Hepler

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