At best, miscommunications can lead to funny stories. At worst, miscommunications can ruin relationships and cause trouble. You know what you said and you made it as clear as crystal, so why does the other person pretend that they didn’t hear it? Here are some reasons why it happens.
We love written communication so much, as it avoids social awkwardness and is quite convenient. However, it comes with a price. Tone and intent tends to be lost. You may have not meant for a message to sound condescending or meant for your comment to come across as a joke, and yet everyone thinks you had the worst intentions.
That’s why people fight online so much. What starts as a well-intentioned disagreement can lead to a war online.
Many people will use emojis or “lol” to indicate that they are joking or being lighthearted. Even then, however, some people may misinterpret that too and think the emojis are part of being condescending! It’s definitely frustrating.
Implicit and Explicit Communication
Often your communication skills need to know the difference between explicit vs. implicit. Explicit communication is when the line is direct. For example, if you want your spouse to take out the trash, you may ask, “Could you please take out the trash right now?” This is a direct command, and it’s worded nicely so it isn’t too demanding.
Implicit communication is when you imply you want something to get done. You may tell your spouse, “The garbage bag is looking a little full.” You’re implying that you want your spouse to take it out, but not directly telling. If your spouse is bad with cues, they may not do it. You get angry, and no one has a good time.
We Look for the Negative
If a statement is ambiguous, or has room to be condescending, we may tend to pick the negative over the positive. In today’s negative world, it can be hard to not assume the worst. If your professor says “Could you see me after class?” you assume the worst is about to happen, when in reality, it could be something positive, or something neutral.
If someone is trying to give you advice, you may think their intentions are bad. For example, you may believe they think you’re dumb and don’t know how to do something, when they are just trying to help.
Social awkwardness can cause miscommunications galore, especially for someone who is autistic or may not have much of a range in tone.
What do we mean? Say that someone speaks in a monotone voice and goes to a job interview. They are interested in the job and may even be quite excited at the prospect, but because they seem so monotone, the potential employer assumes that they aren’t interested.
A monotone voice can lead to people thinking you're rude when you aren’t. It can be a hard thing for people to get past, especially if they don’t know how to do body language, either.
Depending on where you live, where you work, or what cliques you run into, you may have your own lingo. You may say words that mean something else when you interact outside your circle, and to an outsider, you may come across as hard to understand and people may want to avoid you.
Confirmation bias is when we search for something that affirms what we believe in. We see it a lot in politics. Say our religion believes that bacon is good for you, and then you read a study saying it’s overall bad for you, but the study lists some health benefits as well. You may search for those benefits and ignore the drawbacks. In an age of information, many of us tend to go to places that confirm what we believe in, and it’s something you should try to avoid if possible.
This can lead to a lot of tribalism as well. We tend to interact with the groups who share our beliefs, and anything from the outer group can be misinterpreted as the worst. A well-reasoned argument can turn into a strawman argument, or something the other party doesn’t actually believe. Someone may take an extremist position one person is making and apply it across the board.
How to Improve Your Communication Skills
With that said, how can you improve your communication skills? What should you do? You have a few options.
· Take time to digest what the other person is saying. Make sure you aren’t misinterpreting it in a way that makes it more negative than it actually is.
· Add emojis and other indicators if you're trying to be friendly or funny. Make sure your text doesn’t come across as condescending.
· If you're naturally monotone, try practicing body language and improve your speaking skills to show more emotion. It’s a challenge, we know, but with a little practice, you can get better.
· Be more direct with your language, but don’t be demanding. Don’t tell someone to do something without asking please, for example. This is a good way to get your point across without them misinterpreting it.
· Try going out your comfort zone and talk to people who don’t have the same viewpoint or lingo. Make sure you aren’t straw manning the other person.
If you're still having trouble with interpreting or speaking, you may want to seek the help of a therapist. It may be due to social awkwardness, and a therapist can help by giving you ways to deal with it. They can look at situations of miscommunication and figure out if you're doing something wrong. If you're always having fights with your spouse over miscommunication, a couple’s therapist may be what you need. Learning how to communicate better helps in many ways.