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By Jennigay Coetzer

miscommunicationWhen we communicate, we often create an incomplete picture in the minds of those we are communicating with – like a broken jigsaw puzzle.

 

 

 

When it comes to verbal communication, the first two mistakes people make is to assume that the person we are talking to is listening to us and that he or she is receiving the information as we intended them to. Both of these assumptions are so often wrong and lead to miscommunication.

People often listen to reply. So instead of listening properly, they are busy gathering their own thoughts, trying to dig up a story from their memory banks that tops the one currently being told. Then you get those who have a poor attention span and are easily distracted and those who are just habitually bad listeners.

Other things get in the way too, including the person’s understanding and experience relating to the topic being discussed, his or her own preconceived ideas, culture, background, education, IQ, ego, agendas, prejudices, and assumptions.

These issues are often magnified by the fact that the person who is talking is not doing such a good job either. We are all guilty at one time or another of not speaking clearly and distinctly and not articulating what we meant to say, but thinking that we have.

It then comes as a surprise when those who we are talking to get a slightly puzzled look on their face. Miscommunication causes misunderstandings in personal and professional relationships, and in business and politics.

Human beings think in pictures and not in words, so for more Effective Communication it is important to create a clear picture when telling someone something. But when we communicate we often create an incomplete picture in the recipients’ minds like a broken jigsaw puzzle, leaving them to fill in the gaps with their own assumptions, resulting in miscommunication.

To illustrate this, If I tell you that I just had a wonderful barging holiday, you might not know that a barge is a flat-bottomed boat that travels along a canal or river, so you are completely at a loss unless I explain further. If you are a friend you might say outright that you don’t know what a barge is.

But if you are a casual acquaintance you might keep quiet hoping to be enlightened later on in the conversation, either because you are too polite or because you don’t want to appear to be ignorant. If you do know what a barge is, a picture will pop into your head that matches your own experience, perhaps relating to a barging holiday you had in France or the UK or a scene you saw in a movie that featured something about a barge.

Meanwhile, I am picturing the wonderful barging holiday I had in Germany. So our minds are filled with completely different pictures, depending on what we have dug up from our respective memories.

Assumption is one of the biggest causes of miscommunication. Too often we assume those we are speaking to have a similar understanding of what we are talking about and are on the same wavelength.

If you see a slight frown appear on the face of the person you are communicating with after telling him or her something and then quickly give an example that illustrates what you mean, the chances are the frown will disappear.

Getting to the point as soon as possible and not being vague also helps to keep people’s attention when you are talking to them. This is equally so with one-on-one communication as it is with one-to-many communication.

Most of the examples of miscommunication we have been discussing here follow through into written communication.

As a Communication Skills trainer who helps people to avoid miscommunication in the workplace, when interacting with the media, and when writing emails, articles, business documentation and other content, I know how easy it is to get into these bad habits.

Jennigay CoezerJennigay Coetzer is a freelance  writer, journalist, author and trainer. Email her at jennigay@icon.co.za for more information about her writing skills workshops and media training workshops or connect with her on LinkedIn. An ebook version of her book A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing press releases, can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.zatogether with lots more writing tips.

 

 

 


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