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How to Prevent Misunderstandings

How to Prevent Misunderstandings

How to prevent misunderstandings

Tips to prevent misunderstandings based upon poor communication:

  1. Avoid the use of vague, ambiguous or overgeneralised words or phrases.
  2. Use words that are specific, numerical and defined.
  3. Consider reinforcing your message with a visual image, when applicable.
  4. Give concrete definitions for any phrase that can be misunderstood.
  5. Assume that, "whatever CAN be misunderstood, WILL be misunderstood".
  6. If you are unsure of the meaning of the message, ASK for a clarification.
  7. Never guess their intended meaning.

1. Avoid the use of vague, ambiguous or overgeneralised words or phrases.

Most words have more than one possible meaning. For example, if I said, "I think he is very powerful" how many ways could you interpret that message?

  • Does it mean, he is very physically strong and can lift heavy weights?
  • Does it mean, he is a very articulate and impressive speaker?
  • Does it mean, he has a lot of authority in the organisation? or
  • Does it mean something else entirely?

The vast majority of words and phrases have more than one possible meaning, and therefore you have two distinct goals, as a communicator.

If you are transmitting a message you must be clear on your exact intended meaning and if you are the listener, you must discover the exact intended meaning.

2. Use words that are more specific, numerical and defined.

Identify all the key words and phrases that are central to your message and ensure that you choose the most specific words to express your exact meaning.

  1. Use specific verbs.
  2. Use numerical descriptions.
  3. Use definitions.

For example, rather than say, "We are travelling to London to meet the clients tomorrow".

Say instead, "At 10.30 tomorrow morning, Lindsey Gordon and I are taking the train to Paddington, London, to meet with representatives of Corporate Coach Group to discuss communication skills training."

3. Consider reinforcing your message with a visual image, when applicable.

Have you heard the phrase, "A picture is worth a thousand words"?

It is often true that you can convey more information in the form of an image, or diagram, than you could by using word descriptions.

Therefore, if you think it would help, draw a picture.

4. Give concrete definitions for any phrase that can be misunderstood.

Many phrases require definition. For example, if you write, "Come to the meeting and ensure you are well prepared and appropriately dressed". Can you see that you are setting the conditions for a disappointment?

5. Assume that, "whatever CAN be misunderstood, WILL be misunderstood".

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Albert Einstein

This doesn't mean you have to dumb down your message, but instead you should ensure you communicate clearly to facilitate your goal of getting your message across.

6. If you are unsure of the meaning of the message, ASK for a clarification.

Asking for clarification is not a failure to listen. It ensures that your understanding of what the speaker is saying is correct and reassures the speaker that you are interested in what they are saying.

7. Never guess their intended meaning.

If in doubt, check it out.

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