Have you ever tried to talk to someone important only to have it backfire on you because they didn’t understand you well? Even relationships can be ruined through misunderstandings. Here’s why they happen and how to avoid them in future.

We have all been there

You just discussed an important matter with your friend only to discover that they don’t seem to understand its importance. Most of us have presented an idea to a team and received nothing but blank stares. Or sometimes sent a well-intentioned email to a coworker or a WhatsApp message to spouse only to have it blow up in face because what we truly wanted to convey was mis constructed. We’ve all been there, and we know what happens next: Time wasted resolving the misunderstanding and mending the relationship. Isn’t it all because they misunderstood you? While it’s easy to point the finger at someone else, studies show that this is rarely the case. It’s nearly always you who is to blame for such misunderstandings, not the other person, which is a bad news. The good news is that once we realize and accept this, you have entire control over preventing it in future. In this article, we’ll look at why misunderstanding is so common and how you can reduce frustration while better expressing yourself. But before we get into it, let’s take a closer look at what communication really is.

What is Communication?

Communication, the process of sharing of information, ideas, or thoughts from one person to another, is often described as “a process of meaningful engagement among human beings”. It is also defined as “an exchange of facts, ideas, opinions or emotions between two or more persons.” In simple terms, communication is the transfer of information from one person to another.

Why is Communication Important?

Practically, communication keeps the world running. In both our professional and personal lives, the value of communication cannot be overstated, and without it, we would most likely return to the beginnings of human civilization. Communication is present in every aspect of our lives, from our families to our workplaces. Different types of communication are employed throughout the day without us noticing it, from news on the radio, or a corridor conversation at workplace to a simple head nod or handshake. Without communication, there would be no learning or interchange of ideas or concepts, no relationships or businesses, and no people would be able to survive. For capable industrial management and improved relations, effective communication is fundamental. The importance of communication in organizations has increased in the modern world as a result of the growth of telecommunications and information technology, as well as greater competitiveness and complexity in production. Employees across corporates are required to be able to successfully interact with superiors, peers, and subordinates. This will motivate people to work hard and contribute everything they have to the organization.

So, why do miscommunication and misunderstanding occur so frequently? Miscommunication is defined as a failure to communicate effectively or the inability to appropriately explain ideas or thoughts. Listeners misunderstand a miscommunicated message or term because they are unable to interpret the speaker’s true meaning. Most publications on professional and commercial communication, as well as articles on emotional intelligence, emphasize the necessity of avoiding misinterpretation in interpreting the true meaning of your words or sentences. Miscommunication has been demonstrated in studies to have serious emotional consequences, including stress, frustration, morale loss, and inefficiency.

Nonverbal Communication

Communication is divided into four categories: verbal, non-verbal, written, and visual. “Actions speak louder than words,” we’ve all heard it said. This is because what we do has a greater impact on others than what we say. Professor Albert Mehrabian, who has pioneered the study of communications since the 1960s, claims that nonverbal components of communication are far more important than verbal components, and that nonverbal channels convey 93 percent of the meanings of a conversation. His research laid the groundwork for modern communication’s efficacy.

Nonverbal communication, one of the most potent forms of communication, is a type of communication that involves the transmission and receiving of messages that do not use natural language systems. It indicates that without the need of words, this sort of communication is comprehended and interpreted well. They also regarded universal, which means that to a certain extent, people from all walks of life share a common understanding. Now we’ll take a closer look at the types of nonverbal communication.

Types of Nonverbal Communication

  • The first category is called ‘Kinesis,’ which is Greek for ‘movement.’ It includes eye contact, hand motions, facial expressions, and so on.
  • The second is ‘Oculesics,’ which is focused with eye behavior as a communication tool. However, in different cultural locations and contexts, as well as between genders, use and meaning may differ. In North America, for example, direct eye contact is frequent for around 40% of the time when talking and 70% of the time when listening, whereas in Japan, it is more customary to gaze at the other person’s throat. As a result of the disparity in conventions, intercultural misunderstandings are unavoidable.
  • The third is ‘Proxemics,’ which is the study of how space and distance affect communication. This area can range from open space shared by strangers to private space shared by love couples. This distance may also rise, or decrease based on where you live.
  • The term ‘Haptics’ refers to the use of touch in communication, as well as the type of contact, frequency, and intensity. Touch can transmit a variety of meanings. It can be used to offer support and encouragement, to demonstrate intimacy, to signal approval, or to express disdain, distrust, and rejection. Touch can suggest compliance and visually reflect disparities in authority, rank, and prestige, in addition to attachment, bonding, and protection. Haptics, like many other aspects of nonverbal communication, is heavily influenced by culture. Violations of touch-related cultural rules are likely to be perceived similarly to violations of personal space, with negative repercussions. Handshakes in business scenarios in diverse cultural contexts, for example, may differ in terms of grasp strength and arm movements. Handshakes in several Asian countries are less forceful than in North America and Northern Europe. As a result, a firm hold, and a strong handshake may be perceived as unpleasant and confrontational.
  • Finally, ‘Paralanguage’ is concerned with ‘the nonverbal messages of the voice that supplement the meaning of verbal communication or stand alone as a meaning-making entity.’ A metacommunication component known as vocalics affects the meaning of a message by employing variations in pitch, volume, or intonation. Gasps, sighs, moans, groans, throat clearings, mhmm…, and other sounds are examples. Paralanguage differs from culture to culture. Speaking loudly, for example, is viewed as sincere in some cultures but as confrontational in others. Even the meaning of quiet and how it is used is influenced by culture. For example, among indigenous peoples in Northern Canada, it is not uncommon for friends to sit together for lengthy periods of time without speaking. Visitors who are unfamiliar with this custom may feel uneasy and obligated to converse. Variations in paralanguage, not unexpectedly, can lead to misinterpretation and bad perceptions of those who communicate in unusual ways. So, the next time you feel like you misinterpreted what you actually wanted to say, think about these five components and you’ll be able to figure out how to improve next time.

Understanding its limitations

However, there are a few more factors to consider that limit the effectiveness of our goal. In today’s virtual world, when people communicate often via one-line messages or virtual platforms, nonverbal communication etiquette cannot be fully implemented. Furthermore, if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, observations can be misinterpreted (Example: in Customer oriented job profiles). In official/formal circumstances, nonverbal communication cannot be expressed openly or accurately. We’ve seen examples of how nonverbal communication varies depending on culture and gender. Another difficulty that has emerged is the quick shift in communication methods, particularly between Generation Y and Baby Boomers.

How to apply above in life

Considering the foregoing, it is critical to comprehend the characteristics of one’s own cultural setting to avoid misunderstandings within or across cultures. It’s best to seek verbal clarification if somebody say something vocally but their nonverbal communication sends a different message. Be aware that your nonverbal communication is frequently used to judge you. When people encounter you for the first time, they are most likely judging you based on your nonverbal behavior (e.g., your appearance, gestures, and voice attributes). In an interview, for example, the interviewers are likely to evaluate both your nonverbal and spoken behavior. You transmit messages about your level of self-confidence, interest and motivation, attitude toward the interview, emotional state, and many other personal features and characteristics through nonverbal channels. Consider the messages you’re delivering with your posture, eye contact, and other nonverbal behaviors. Never presume that people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds will comprehend your nonverbal messages. When in doubt, use verbal checks to make sure your point was understood correctly. Whenever possible, attempt to follow up your nonverbal messages with a vocal follow-up that reinforces your nonverbal message.

Conclusion

Everyone, especially in a multi-cultural environment, makes mistake by not communicating effectively. It is everyone’s obligation to remember that the person in front of you may not be in the same mood as you are, making it difficult for them to understand what you are trying to convey. We’ve seen a variety of other things influencing this understanding, such as culture, gender, age, and so on. So, the next time you speak with someone, consider the above discussed points to avoid any misunderstandings. With one little change, the world can be a better place for everyone.