How To Avoid Miscommunication

by Emma Cueto

Miscommunication is never fun, but it is unquestionably something that happens. And here to help you out with your miscommunication woes is a new video from TED-Ed appropriately called "How Miscomunication Happens (and how to avoid it)." So if you're someone who feels like people misunderstand what you're trying to say a lot, this might help.

As humans, we often like to think not only that the way we see the world is objective and unimpeachable, but also that the way we choose to express ourselves is similarly clear cut. After all, we understand what we mean just fine, so why can't you? That's more or less how I thought until an introductory psychology course in college has us spend two weeks on the underlying mechanisms behind speech and communication. From the moment the professor starts laying out the basics of Communication Accommodation Theory, your mind is already blown.

In order to understand what someone is saying, you have to be able to do things like recognize the words they are using, understand the often very abstract and symbolic meaning of those words, recognize how the words are arranged in a sentence, and figure out what message or messages they all convey together as a whole — and as if that weren't enough, you also have to be able to do all of this very, very quickly. Plus, speech is collaborative, meaning that what someone says to you will influence the way you respond, all of which happens automatically on a very fundamental cognitive level.

Basically, two people transmitting information to one another through language seems like a simple matter to us as humans, but only because our brains have gotten really good at it. There's a reason robots are not good conversationalists.

As Katherine Hempsten puts it in the video, don't think of speaking to someone as throwing them a ball...

...but rather as a game of catch.

All communication is transactional, meaning we aren't just spitting information at each other, but working together to produce some sort of meaning that both parties are clear on.

But sometimes, one person's interpretation of a message doesn't quite mesh with another's. And then you have miscommunication problems.

So how do you fix that? Or better yet, prevent it from happening in the first place? Well, Hempsten has a few suggestions. For one, remember that there's a difference between hearing and listening.

Remember that communication isn't just about words, so use not just your ears, but your eyes — and you gut, too.

Most importantly, try keeping in mind the lens through which you see the world and being aware of how that might impact your understanding and your reactions. If you recognize that you see things a certain way because of your own identity, it makes it easier to communicate with someone very different from you than if you assumed the way you see the world is the absolute truth.

You can find more insight and advice in the full video.

Images: Pexels; TED-Ed/YouTube (6)