How to Manage Messy Miscommunication
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
One of my clients recently told me that her partner chastises her at times for the way she communicates. I suspected part of her communication insecurities was because of this hence why I asked. When we started to work together approximately a year ago learning to communicate more effectively in general was one of her top goals. Fast forward, although she is a lot more confident expressing herself, the recent episode with her partner brought up some old feelings.
I asked her about the recent miscommunication with her partner. Granted, as her coach, I am only getting one side of the story, however, from what my client told me I could not understand why her partner was upset. This said I do not think anything warrants unhelpful criticism, constructive feedback perhaps but not shame or blame.
Despite our best efforts, miscommunication is inevitable. Whether it is due to assumptions, technology failures or any number of other reasons, it is bound to happen. I believe how we respond when miscommunication and misunderstandings happen is what matters. Recently, my family and I were in a group text thread and I did not get a text one member had sent. Some members got upset because I followed up on something they believed was already addressed. Instead of getting upset back at them, I explained the situation and the misunderstanding was eventually resolved. We can always choose whether to react or respond to any given circumstance or event.
As for my client, from my understanding, the miscommunication born between her and her partner was from a conflict in communication styles. We all have different styles of communicating and it's helpful to be mindful of this when dealing with others. Just because someone does not communicate like we do doesn't mean their way of expressing themselves is inferior to ours. That said, of course we can improve on how we speak and communicate, especially if we want to jive with another’s style.
According to John Artise's, communication strategist and coach, there are four types of communicators: The Feeler, the Sensor, the Intuitor and the Thinker.
After much research, he concluded that:
"The Feeler uses language to express emotion. The Sensor is driven by the drumbeat of constant deadline; she's interested in getting things done quickly. The Intuitor thinks in terms of the conceptual and long-range plans; he's a problem solver but not necessarily interested in sticking around to implement solutions—he'd rather move on to the next puzzle. The Thinker operates on logic: She loves organization and systems, and unlike the Intuitor, she likes to see projects through to the bitter end."[i]
Knowing this, and perhaps investigating your own style, may also help you communicate more clearly and confidently.
I believe speaking clearly is often subsumed in speaking confidently. We are less shaky and tongue-tied if we are sure of ourselves and what we want to say. We can also avoid some miscommunications when we speak clearly and confidently. Sure, we can practice speaking more confidently, and I provide some suggestions on how to do so, however, confidence is usually a product of going deeper, and doing some inner excavation (typically with a professional like a coach or counsellor) and working out some limiting thoughts and beliefs.
You can also start by replacing some of your unconscious day-to-day language such as "I can't" to "I won't" or "I need to" to "I choose to." Changing reactive language to proactive language helps to build confidence.
Practice also helps build confidence. You can practice communicating differently with your friends and family. You can study the speakers you admire and emulate them, like one of my clients did, or get involved with improv or Toastmasters. Some events are now accessible virtually. You can also work with a communication coach. Practicing will help you become more adept when communication is blocked in some way.
If you suspect miscommunication is at play, go through a miscommunication checklist before calling out a person or group: 1) Does the person/group know I called, emailed or texted? 2) Do I assume intentions or motives that may not be true? and 3) Do I assume they are a mind reader? If you said yes to any of these things, best to sort it out with yourself first before addressing the person or group.
A great way to address the situation if you answered no to the questions is by using "I feel" statements. Instead of starting your response with "You..." or "You always" try "I feel..." or "I felt..." This approach tends to diffuse escalation as it's tougher to argue with someone's feelings. If you are not used to speaking this way, it may seem inauthentic at first, however, with practice, it becomes second nature. It works more effectively with a non-confrontational tone and delivery.
So, the next time you are judging someone or yourself in regard to communication, it's good to keep these things in mind. Awareness and practice go hand and hand. I know it does for me and my clients. If you go through the checklist or some of the other strategies, it will not only help you at work but in any situation where you want to be better understood.
[i] How to Get What You Want from Anyone. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.oprah.com/omagazine/get-what-you-want-by-improving-your-communication-skills/all