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Understand misunderstandings

Become a more effective communicator

Do you have to deal with misunderstandings and miscommunications at work or in your personal life? Do you have the feeling that people never really get what you want to say exactly? Do you get frustrated when you struggle to send your message in an intelligible way?

Communication is by definition sharing information: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals by symbols, signs, words or behaviours.

We cannot not communicate; even when we do not say a word, we still communicate and exchange signals through our body language.

The communication process seems to be a very simple thing: when we have something to say, we just say it, right?

In fact, it might not be as simple as it sounds.

Too often, the communication process leads to misunderstandings and miscommunications.

How can we explain that?

Misunderstandings and miscommunications are due to the fact that we are all unique: we have a unique vision and a unique perception of the World. This explains why we do receive messages in a unique way.

70% of our communication efforts are:

  • Misunderstood

  • Misinterpreted

  • Rejected

  • Distorted

  • Not heard

Because of:

  1. Interruption – To complete others’ sentences, continue on related topics…

  2. Preparation – We often prepare our response before someone has finished speaking

  3. Multitasking – While ‘listening’

  4. Filtering – Content or meaning based on our opinion/ prejudice about the speaker

If you want a message to be well understood, you will have to be aware of the communication process.


The communication process is the way a message is sent (by the sender) and the way it is received, perceived and understood (by the receiver).

Step 1

The sender has a need, thought or feeling to communicate.

In the sender’s mind the message is pretty clear.

Step 2

The sender translates his thought into a verbal message; this is the coding process. The sender’s choice of words is influenced by his own vision and perception.

Step 3

The sender sends his message to the receiver: he expresses his need, thought or feeling.

Step 4

The receiver decodes the message through his own vision and perception.

Step 5

The receiver understands the message his own way.

Without exception, all communication problems is a two person problem. Every time there is a misunderstanding, it is the fault of both the sender and the receiver.

The sender problem

The typical ‘mistake’ of the sender is to code the message on his own way, without taking the receiver into consideration.

Would we say the same thing to a friend, our boss, a 3 years old kid or a foreigner? Of course not, this is why, as a sender, we have to adapt and adjust our communication to the receiver.

The receiver problem

When we receive a message, our comprehension can be disrupted by a few factors such as poor listening skills (or wrong timing) as well as the lack of necessary skills to decode the message. Also, as receivers we often add our own meaning to the message.


1. Be aware of your own communication mistakes

It is important to understand that we can all send confusing messages as well as misunderstand received information. By knowing that, you can make extra efforts to communicate effectively.

2. Choose your words carefully

When you communicate, always adapt yourself to the receiver and remember that people are not capable to read your mind…

3. Check the level of understanding

Ask questions and reformulate to ensure that you understand or you have been understood in the right way. Do not interpret and assume before checking.

Think about how many arguments and conflicts could be prevented by simply doing this!

Communication Process and Misunderstanding

A misunderstanding is caused by a gap between ‘What I mean’ and ‘What is understood’.

A misunderstanding is often due to:

  • Misinformation

  • Withholding information

  • Inappropriate support

  • Reference differences


Be aware of the barriers to communicate effectively:

  • Filtering

  • Lying

  • Facial indicators

  • Over eagerness to respond

  • Closed words

  • Judging

  • Credibility gap

  • Noise

  • Poor listening

  • Assuming understanding

  • Selective perception

  • Emotions

  • Language

  • Snap judgments

  • Attacking the individual

  • Rank

  • Jumping to conclusion



Example 1: In this example the sender took into consideration the receiver but didn’t manage to adapt the message to her.

Example 2: In this example the sender didn’t took into consideration the receiver and didn’t adapt the message to her.


Example 3: In this example the sender took into consideration the receiver and adapted the message to him.

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