Don’t let me be misunderstood…

From Risk Communication

All communication has two parts: a sender and a receiver. The sender has a message he or she intends to transmit, and she puts it in words which, to her, best reflect what she is thinking. But many things can intervene to prevent the intended message from being received.

If the communication is verbal, tone of voice can influence interpretation. Nonverbal cues also are important. Is the sender’s posture open and friendly, or closed and cold? Is her facial expression friendly or accusatory? All of these factors influence how the same words will be received.

In addition to how the message is sent, many additional factors determine how the message is interpreted by the receiver. All new information we learn is compared with the knowledge we already have. If it confirms what we already know, we will likely receive the new information accurately, though we may pay little attention to it. If it disputes our previous assumptions or interpretation of the situation, we may distort it in our mind so that it is made to fit our world view, or we may dismiss the information as deceptive, misguided, or simply wrong.

If the message is ambiguous, the receiver is especially likely to clarify it for herself in a way which corresponds with her expectations. Our expectations, based on our life experiences, work as blinders or filters that distort what we see so that it fits our preconceived images of the world.

From Perception is Reality

Below are a few tips for resolving misunderstandings and overcoming communication barriers:

1. Use ‘I’-statements

‘You-statements’ put people on the defensive and often lead to a hostile response. On the other hand, ‘I-statements’ have the opposite effect. For example, ‘I feel disappointed that you cancelled at the last minute’ rather than ‘You’ve let me down again’.

2. Clearly express how you feel

Mind-reading and assuming that others know what you want can create all sorts of problems. When you hint rather than make a clear statement, people don’t always get the message. Similarly, when you ramble on rather than state your thoughts clearly, people may not get the message. So, if there is something that you need to say it’s helpful to tell it as it is – don’t hint.

3. Do it now

If there’s an issue you need to raise or a situation that needs to be resolved, try to deal with it as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets, and the more tension builds up. The only exception to this rule is if you feel very angry, and you can’t trust yourself to stay calm when you talk about it. In this situation, it’s often a good idea to have a cooling off period before you raise the issue. Doing this prevents conflict and reduces the likelihood that you’ll say things you’ll regret. Take as long as you need.

4. Ask for clarification

Just as people can’t always read your mind, sometimes it is difficult to interpret what someone else is thinking or feeling. If you’re confused about the message you’re receiving, the best thing to do is check it out with the other person. Asking for clarification helps to prevent misunderstandings.

For example, a friend seems withdrawn and you suspect they are angry with you. You say: ‘You seem quiet – have I done something to upset you?’ or ‘Is everything OK?’ Checking it out with them can help bring the issue to the surface (if there is one), then you can talk about it.

On the other hand, if there is actually nothing wrong, talking about it will ease your concerns.

5. Acknowledge your discomfort in raising an issue

If you feel uncomfortable raising a particular issue, it can be helpful to let the other person know this, for example: ‘Look Sam I feel really awkward about bringing this up but…’ or ‘Alex, I need to talk to you about something and I’m feeling nervous about it. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but if I don’t say anything, I think I’ll continue to feel upset.’

By honestly referring to your discomfort, you lower the temperature, reducing the likelihood that the other person will become hostile or defensive.

6. Be aware of your body language

The way you speak – including the volume and tone of your voice, your physical gestures, and facial expressions, all have an important impact on how your message will be received. If you fold your arms in front of your chest, have a stern expression on your face or speak in an accusing tone, the other person is likely to feel defensive even before they have heard what you have to say.

On the other hand, an open posture, a calm voice, and relaxed body language helps the other person to feel at ease. This allows your message to be delivered in a non-threatening way. Here’s an acronym that might help you remember good body language:

S – face the person Squarely

O – Open Posture, no crossed arms or fidgeting

L – Lean towards the person, not too much but just enough to show interest

E – maintain Eye contact, without staring

R – be Relaxed, don’t fidget and be comfortable

7. Communicate positive feelings

Developing good relationships means being able to express positive feelings at times. We often assume that people know that we like them or appreciate what they do for us, so we don’t tell them. However, people aren’t mind-readers. If we don’t tell them they don’t always know (even if they do know, it’s still nice to hear someone say nice things every now and then!)

Communicating positive feelings towards others lets them know that we value them and helps to strengthen relationships. Warm feelings can be expressed as a whole message. For example: ‘Jo, the other day when I was upset you asked me if I was OK. It was really good to talk to you. I just wanted to say thanks – you’ve been a good friend.’

8. Over to practicing these points

Hope these tips will help all of us to resolve problems and disagreements in a reasonable and helpful way.

Based on the following resources:


12 thoughts on “Don’t let me be misunderstood…

  1. stenoves says:

    Thanks for great hints on comunicatio. Needs to be reminder on.maintain Eye contact, without staring can be hard sometimes for me as I don’t have it natural from the early years. Practising.

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Unfortunately, I often get misunderstood in real life and I find it very hard to deal with that. I hope these hints will help me too, though I do find most of them very hard in practice. I was pleasantly surprised that in the blogosphere I had no issues with misunderstanding at all over the last year. That does make me think that the problem is in the messenger (myself), rather than the message. 😦

  2. Charlie says:

    So glad to have a chance to read something like this. Kind explanation and easy to understand, even with some practical action plans…Thanks… 🙂

  3. very beautiful article
    with regards

  4. Biz Psycho says:

    Reblogged this on SGandA and commented:
    What we sometimes forget in business …

  5. malootka says:

    Reblogged this on truthionary.

  6. Nice post on communication. Need to keep the info in mind the next time I leave my garret and run into someone in real time.

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