Assumption: The Root of All Miscommunications

Miscommunication happens when we fail to accurately convey what we mean by what we have said. It can happen when we make a statement and those around us immediately make assumptions about what we meant or why we said it.

Sunrise partially blocked by clouds and relected in the tops of waves and the wet sand on the shore

The sun is ignorant of the clouds that obscure its light and of the fact that we then partly remain in the shadows of darkness.

I don’t have any studies to back me up, but based on my own observations, I’m willing to say it happens to each of us at least twice a day. Once, when someone else makes an incorrect assumption about something we have said, and again when we make an incorrect assumption about what someone else has said. That’s a lot of miscommunication. If we routinely made two wrong turns while driving in an area we know, we’d be alarmed for the condition of our minds.

The difference between having a conversation and driving is that when we drive, we know the exact location of our destination and we get plenty of feedback in the form of familiar landmarks to tell us how to get there. We can confirm we have arrived at our intended destination by reading posted signs. We only get that kind of feedback and confirmation in our conversations if we ask for it.

For instance, when I urge people to speak honestly about their feelings or a situation as they see it, they sometimes incorrectly assume it is an invitation to be insensitive or disrespectful. Nothing is further from the truth.

My intention is to ensure that our conversations include honest recognition of our own and each others’ feelings and needs.

My intention is to put recognition for our own reality in the place where secrecy, guilt, shame, blame, misconceptions, misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations sometimes live.

My intention is to increase our ability to be sensitive and respectful by increasing our understanding of the other person’s wants and needs.

My intention is to set the stage for our relationships to be built on a strong foundation.

It is only when I ask for feedback about what I’ve said does it become clear to me that incorrect assumptions have caused a miscommunication. When I provide clarity for what I mean and put it into context through examples, then I’ve given people the tools to accurately grasp my intended meaning. When I ask for feedback, I confirm that the person I’m speaking to understands what I said in the same way as I meant it. We have removed the assumptions that cause miscommunication.

The American economist Alan Greenspan expressed this common problem of miscommunication caused by incorrect assumptions this way:

“I know you think you understand what you

thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that

what you heard is not what I meant.”

~Alan Greenspan

What do people hear you say that causes them to make wrong assumptions? What do you incorrectly assume you understand based on what you hear others say? By providing context and clarity and seeking feedback when we speak about our wants and needs, we can be clear in our own meaning. By asking questions to confirm our correct assumptions and dispel our incorrect ones, we can be accurate in our understanding of others wants and needs.

Life Is Honest, Open and True: We can have the best intentions for clarity in what we say, and think that our meaning is crystal clear, but unless we ask for feedback, we risk miscommunication. We can think we perfectly understand what another person has said, but unless we confirm our assumptions, we risk miscommunication. The next time you’re tempted to think you know where a conversation has been and where it is going, take a few minutes to confirm your assumptions.

Related Posts: Incorrect Assumptions  

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0 Responses to Assumption: The Root of All Miscommunications

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  5. I recall a workshop where “intent vs. outcome” was the main theme as it applies to (mis-)communication and hurt feelings. It’s good to do a self-check of our language occasionally, and think about the outcome of our words. Example: I offered to replace a friend’s broken bathroom fixture, only to find out she had the wrong size item on hand. I said, “You’ve got the wrong part.” Her response was something like, “I didn’t buy it, the landlord did.” She wasn’t being defensive or nasty at all, but it made me realize my words weren’t neutral — they were unconsciously accusatory. That wasn’t my intent, of course, I was just stating fact. But the outcome, to a different (and less kind) person on the receiving end, might have been hurt feelings or anger. I should have said something like, “This is the wrong part.” That way, there’s not even an inkling of “blame,” even if none were intended.

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