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Why do people miscommunicate?

A study by Ketchum Communications found that only 31% of people believe their workplace leaders communicate well. If you want to be a better leader, you need to be a better communicator.

Most people don't wake up and think "Today I am going to be a lousy communicator." Yet, most of us struggle with communicating well - both at work and in personal relationships.

Why is poor communication so common?

Alain Hunkins explained this using the Three Rings of Communications. He used the analogy of the game of horseshoes: the goal of the game is to throw a "ringer", i.e. to get your horseshoes around a metal stake. It takes work to get one ringer, but getting three ringers in a row is hard work. Effective communication is like landing three ringers in a row.

For communication to be effective, all three rings have to be perfectly aligned. Which means: what you mean is exactly what you say, which is exactly what the receiver hear.

Unfortunately this happens very rarely. One of the main reason is what psychologists refer to as projection bias, where you unconsciously assume the other person share your thoughts and feelings (expecting people to be mind-readers, we are all guilty of it). Our brains' default is to assume our subjective point of view is objective reality. We also often assume that our intended meaning is obvious, because in our mind, no conscious effort is required to make sense of what we are thinking - it's already crystal clear. But it's often not the case to the receiver of the message.

Examples in workplace:

- I sent the email, they should know exactly what to do.

- My boss has no clue what's actually going on here, this new protocol is a waste of time.

- Why are they so incompetent, it's not rocket science, can't they just sort it out?

Examples in relationships:

- We've been together for so long, he/she should just know what I was thinking

- How could he/she do that to me? Does he/she not know this is going to hurt my feelings?

- Don't they realise I was so tired at work and don't have energy to talk?

Do you resonate with any of these? If you do, don't panic, communication is a learnable skill that can be improved over time with practice.

In my next blog post, I will talk about a few tips on how to become a better communicator - stay tuned!


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