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Effective Communication: Assume you will be misunderstood (Part 1)

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All too often, we think of communication from the perspective of getting our message out. In the interpersonal interactions of our day-to-day lives, we are focused on telling the other person what we want to say. On a grander scale, as in marketing, the objective is to reach as many people as possible with our message. In both cases (and everything in between), it’s easy to forget to consider a crucial point: the receiver, and the real goal of mutual understanding.

Miscommunication happens when the person or people we’re talking to don’t understand what we’ve just said to them. (For now, I’m going to stick to the one-on-one communication, more on the marketing messages in another post.) Problems occur when an assumption is made that when we’re talking to someone, the other person is coming from the same perspective, mindset and understanding as we are. Usually, it’s an unconscious assumption, but it also causes a lot of the misunderstanding and conflict that happen.

Consider that the opposite is true. Chances are, the person you’re speaking with is coming from a completely different place than you. They may be from another generation, culture, background, upbringing, value-system or even something as simple as mental space (are they ready to receive your message). What that means is that misunderstanding is the norm and can be assumed. To bridge that gap, to the best of your ability, it’s helpful to consider those differences as you communicate.

Obviously, this isn’t so much an issue with really simple messages like “I’m going to the store and am picking up eggs and falafel.” But it really makes a difference in more complex issues, especially those that are sensitive and could lead to argument.

So, assume the other person has a high likelihood of misunderstanding what you have to say. Consider what those areas of misunderstanding may be, and let that guide your communication with them. It may be technical knowledge they don’t have, if so, explain in simpler terms. You may have had a rotten day and could come across as being abrupt or irritated, say so. You needed someone to do a task in a particular way for you and they didn’t, explain in more detail what your expectations were. Whatever the case, proactively anticipating misunderstanding and either simplifying or elaborating can make all the difference.

Ultimately, effective communications is not only getting the message out, it’s getting the message to the other person in a way that they understand what we said in the way we intended it. Seems obvious, but is often harder than it seems.

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