Established, since 1997, leading UK based training provider.

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.

Blogs by Email

Do you want to receive an email whenever we post a new blog? The blogs contain article 5-10 minutes long - ideal for reading during your coffee break!

Your Comments

Further Reading in Communication - Clear Communication

  • The Most Important Question
    Many people speak in vague terms, or they don’t make themselves clear, so don't be afraid to ask them for clarification. It is dangerous to guess their meaning; ask the all important question before jumping to conclusions.
    Read Article >
  • How to improve the way you speak
    People judge your intelligence, ability and professionalism by the way you speak. Therefore, the way you speak has an enormous affect on your chances of success. Take a look at these ten ways to improve the way you speak, to gain more respect.
    Read Article >
  • How to Communicate Positive Feedback
    People are very quick to give negative feedback, but it is even more important to communicate positive feedback. Correctly given, positive feedback can be much more effective in getting people to change their behaviour or attitude.
    Read Article >
  • What are the Factors of Effective Communication?
    Being able to communicate effectively is vital to achieving your goals, as well as fostering good working relationships with colleagues. Great communication at work will benefit the sharing of creative ideas and problem solving.
    Read Article >
  • How to improve the way I speak
    How to improve the way I speak It is important to be able to speak and to write clearly. One of the biggest mistakes you can make, at work, is to use ambiguous language. It is especially naughty to give ambiguous instructions. An ambiguous instruction is any instruction that is so...
    Read Article >