"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others." – Anthony Robbins
Communication is the exchange and flow of ideas and information from one person to another; it involves a sender transmitting an idea, information, or feeling to a receiver. Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or the idea that the sender intends to transmit. If it is not the case, we witness the phenomenon of miscommunication. In other words, miscommunication happens when the communicator fails to transmit his or her message in intended way or when the receiver interprets the received message in the way which was not intended by the communicator.
Whether we like or not, miscommunication happens frequently in our daily life.
We are constantly under pressure everyday in our lives as we are confronted with communicational errors at every stage of the process of communication. Therefore, The cases of miscommunication vary depending on the situation and persons included in it, but often result in confusion and frustration. Miscommunication may, in some cases, even open up the triangle of other factors that inevitably lead to a conflict.
In this chapter we will dwell deeper in the subject of miscommunication. We will analyze and explicate the factors behind the issue. Thus, we will summarize the varying concepts that have an affect on this matter.
Major reasons for miscommunication
Miscommunication is a result of many different factors as information is transmitted through the channel of communication. Basically, it happens when one side doesn’t communicate enough information to the other side, or we misinterpret the real meaning of their words. In either case, we get a different understanding than they intended. Thus, anything that prevents one of understanding the message is a barrier to communication.
To universalize the case, miscommunication can happen out of multiple reasons. However, the most common explanation is an event where one side provides inadequate information during communication and thereby forces us to coin our own perceptions. In addition, miscommunication also occurs when misinterpretation of the real meaning of words is done. In both cases the intended meaning of the words is twisted. Additionally, due to the invention of online chats and e-mails this problem is currently on the rise. These types of communication systems are asynchronous communication, that is, the communication between people does not happen in real time. Therefore, the response doesn’t arrive immediately and leads people to interpret the other side according to the words she or he has typed.
More traditional cases of miscommunication may happen based on culture, background or bias. We allow our past experiences to change the meaning of the message unintentionally. These factors allow us to use our past experiences to understand something new. Moreover, Focusing purely on ourselves, rather than the other person can lead to confusion and conflict. The “Me generation” is out when it comes to effective communication.
Fear is another cause of miscommunication since human beings are always afraid of the worst outcome. A good example of this is when a husband stays out late and forgets to call his wife back at home. Due to the lack of communication, the wife will start worrying and her mind will switch to the fear mode. Self- talk will start occurring in the form of her fears and she will start questioning his fidelity and commitment to her.
Other factors, such as environment and noise, might also result in miscommunication. That is, for example, when a person is distracted by an attractive person or an unusual sight. Also the perception of the other party is may affect the situation; our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen. What is more, if we feel the other is talking either too fast or incoherently, we may dismiss the person.
There have been several researches made about the causes of miscommunication. The subject itself is intriguing, which makes it an interesting object for qualitative analysis. This perspective is also assimilated by Clark, who identifies 4 different levels of conversation at which problems for maintaining common ground may arise:
1. A was not accessible to B
2. A was accessible to B, but B didn’t perceive A
3. B perceives A, but doesn’t understand A as meaning X
4. B believes X
In the first point of the list, B never received any communication from A to interpret. On the other hand, the second point describes a situation where B forms no beliefs about the communicative intent. The third point represents a situation, where there is a case of true misunderstanding. In other words, the receiver does not fathom the true meaning of the message. Finally, The last point does not represent a case of actual misunderstanding, but rather a disagreement about the contents of the message (e.g. misinterpretation or misconception). In general, however, the communicative situation is more complex than just a comparison between the mental states of two communicating agents.
As communication is defined to be a process of understanding and sharing meaning, the miscommunication carries misunderstanding and not sharing the goal of the communication. As in miscommunication the question is about the lack of clear or adequate communication, we can approach the subject also form the view of a good communication.
The problems caused by miscommunication can be critical even for the peace of the World. In Afghanistan, even NATO has blamed miscommunication in the fire incident. (Huffington Post, 2010). In organizations, managerial communication with its’ methods and levels of communication are in a key role achieve people act and perform as the organization needs. Miscommunication can be in everyday life easily corrected by a new communication. But the bigger the communicated issue is, and the more it engenders needs of change in people’s behavior, the more important is to avoid miscommunication. The time used to correct all serious misunderstanding can be vital for the time reaching the assigned target.
To avoid the problems of miscommunication, there is the need to understand the process of communication. The process includes five components: communicator, audience, message itself, channel and cultural context. In everyday communication in organizations you do not usually think these components as they remain stable but sometimes you should.
First, you should decide who is chosen to be the communicator in the situation. Of course, sometimes it goes according organizational levels or the position of the person, but if the messenger himself is not important, you can always choose a good speaker. Many organizations use DISC method to gauge personal styles and to choose the best person to communicate. DISC profile identifies personal styles: directing, influencing, supportive and contemplative. Personal style effects job performance, interpersonal relations and personal satisfaction. When you recognize the different profiles of possible communicators, you can use different people in different situations of communication. This helps to avoid miscommunication. Also you can easily accommodate the right person on right situation by comparing the profile to the audience’s profile.
Second, to avoid miscommunication in the field of message, the most important thing to do is to clarify the target of the message. In the business communication, but also in all communication between people the problems of misunderstanding van be avoided if the message itself is presented in a clear, concise way. The rule of KISS, Keep It Short and Simple, helps the communicator to express the key target of the message. Your message should have a reason and the objective is to get the message across clearly and professionally. Verify your message or idea to understandable configuration, include some effective, creative ideas inside your message, listen and “breath” or collect the audience’s feedback during or after your communication. Let people grasp and think but confirm their understanding with questions. Keeping the control is supported by summarizing the message. Depending of the situation, remember different styles of learning among the audience: use speech (voice), show materials or documents (see) and give something to touch. Considering these styles of learning helps you to get the message through to every type in the most correct way.
In the third component of communication, you can avoid miscommunication by choosing the right channel. When the message or the information is complicated, communication usually is more successful when people have a possibility to ask. If this is not possible, ensure by using feedback channels, the message is understood.
The culture itself, the fourth component, can advance or prevent the miscommunication. It can be a question of all cultural dimensions. The better the communicator is aware of the existing culture, the easier is to avoid misunderstandings caused by the cultural differences.
There is also another interesting perspective to the miscommunication. According Anolli, Ciceri and Riva (2002) miscommunication can be also useful and powerful device in the hands of a good communicator. By analyzing the process of miscommunication, you can use it as a chance as it enhances the degrees of freedom to the communicators in different interactions. The theory of miscommunication explains the communication to be successful even the communication is not totally perfect. Even the editors speak for the positive chance in the miscommunication the theory is built on the violation of accepted communicational rules, the problems in interpersonal communication and mismatching both interpretation and misrepresentation of information.
Aalto University School of Economics, 2012 Lectures in Managerial Communication by Alona Senishch-Chmilewsky
Anolli, Ciceri & Riva (2002) Say not to Say, New Perspectives of Miscommunication
Moon, C. (1999) Communicate with Confidence
Schwatrz, M (2006) Fundamentals of Sales Management
Åberg, L. (1999) Esimiehen viestintäopas
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