How many times have you thought you were communicating clearly, only to discover that your words were taken in a way you never could have imagined—and likely, more negatively?
Here are 9 varying explanations as to why communication that, however carefully you delivered it—whether orally or in writing, might be quite different from the communication actually received. And doubtless, there are others:
What assumptions might you be making about the depth or breadth of another’s knowledge? Might your communication have included an allusion with which they were totally unfamiliar? It could have referred to a character like Prometheus, Sappho, or Ulysses; a literary work like Madame Bovary, The Trial, or The Sound and the Fury; or a word like acquiescence, fulsome, or nonplussed—which you wrongfully estimated the individual would know the meaning of, but, frankly, many people do not. It's the same with jargon and acronyms—technical terms or verbal short-cuts you may be so familiar with that you assume everyone else must also be cognizant of, but many may never have encountered—think DNR, SCOTUS, GDP, IED, or Code Eight (or even BFF, or WTF!).
What certain words connote to you may be dramatically different from what they connote to the person you’re speaking to (particularly if English isn’t their first language). But in a variety of situations you could be misunderstood because the meaning you ascribe to a word—or its nuances, or “coloring"—just isn’t what gets transmitted. For example, complimenting the innocence or spontaneity of someone’s behavior, you might employ the word childlike. But someone else may regard this term as synonymous with the much less flattering term childish, and take strong offense.
Again, if someone's reaction to you doesn't seem to make much sense, it's advisable to ask what they heard you say. Certainly you don't want to pass up the opportunity to correct their misinterpretation.
In ending this piece, I’ll provide what, to me, is a particularly humorous example of the miscellaneous phenomena referred to above. It’s taken from a recent personal experience I had in needing to undergo a diagnostic procedure—which necessitated that I don a one-size-fits-all hospital gown. Since the room was a bit chilly (and I’m prone to the sniffles), I strategically stuffed a couple of facial tissues into one of the robe’s pockets. When the technician detected a bulge there, he inquired as to what I’d placed inside. And when I replied, “Kleenex,” he immediately perked up and responded, “Oh . . . peanuts!” (making me wonder whether perhaps I’d reminded him of a favorite snack!).
If you found this post in any way illuminating, I hope you’ll share its link with others. I’ve written many other posts on relationship matters. Here are some titles and links:
If you’d like to see other posts I’ve written for Psychology Today—on a broad variety of topics—click here.