I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve said, “I didn’t mean it like that!” Or, a nickel for every time someone said it to me. I’d be a very wealthy man! The sad fact is, the messages we send can often be received differently than we intend. And, when it happens, it can be a disaster. With college and careers starting for many this time of year, it’s important they’re aware of how they’re coming across and the impact of how we say things They’ll be making scores of first impressions and beginning new relationships of all sorts.
Despite our best efforts, miscommunication happens to the best of us. Sometimes we’re the deliverer and other times we’re the receiver. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it, especially as you embark on a new stage in your life and meet new people.
Four things affect how others receive our messages…and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful:
- Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about. In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. In the “heat of moment,” we can be so focused on proving our point or describing how we really feel that we forget to show tact, empathy, and understanding to our audience. Inevitably it leads to hurt, mistrust, frustration, verbal attacks, or shutting down. We’ve all experienced this.
- Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way.
- Form – Ever wanted to type a nasty email when you’re irritated, or send a harsh text when you’re upset? Trust me, that never ends well. The advantage of verbal communication is that the audience hears you speak, allowing your tone to help convey your ideas. In contrast, written communications (e-mails, social media messages, text messages, etc.) have a major disadvantage because the audience imposes their own interpretation of your tone when they read it. Their perception may be light years away from what you intended. If so, you have a big problem on your hands that might be very hard to undo!
- Filter – Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, or either focused or distracted by other thoughts, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time (especially with written communications), and you can’t control it.
In short, here are a few quick tips to make sure you avoid miscommunication with others:
- Be sure your expression (body language, tone, and facial expressions) are in sync
- Think before you speak, especially if you’re in an emotional state or commenting on potentially charged topics. Avoid provocative words and sleep on any written communications before sending when addressing sensitive topics.
- Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the audience’s position with a goal of mutual understanding. You may agree to disagree, but that’s okay.
- Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend. Their eyes won’t lie!
- Be a discerning listener when they respond
- Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
Do you pay close attention to how you communicate and how your words are being received? When meeting new people, how do you make a good first impression and avoid miscommunication? What are some ways you’ve learned to be a more effective communicator?
Image: freedigitalphotos.net, by nenetus
You hit all the key factors, many of which I have written about myself but not all put together in a list like this. One little detail to add under choice of words that came to mind is that there are plenty of words that have relative meaning or can be interpreted any number of ways. The word “few” is one in particular. To my husband, it means exactly 3-5. To me, it is more relative. If I say there were only a few people in church this morning, I might mean 25 compared to the usual crowd. So you have to keep things like that in mind. I have learned to be more specific when speaking to the kids or him and say that I will be there in 15 minutes vs. a few minutes, just to avoid any confusion.