Communication Breakdown: I Said This; You Heard That?

Communication breakdown

“You hurt me!” Whitley exclaimed.  “What did I do?” her friend asked.  As Whitley begins her lengthy explanation of their previous conversation and how it hurt her, her friend nods affirmingly. Internally, however, she grows more puzzled, confused, and secretly frustrated.  Inwardly, she thinks, “How in the world did Whitley get that from what I said?” Outwardly, she seeks to make amends with an apology, saying, “I’m sorry you were hurt by what I said.  I didn’t know you would take it that way.”  It was a classic communication breakdown.

Miscommunication Is Not A Stranger

Does this story sound familiar?  I used this scenario because I’ve witnessed it play out countless times, but, the truth is, there are endless variations that I could have written.

However, the specifics of the scenario aren’t as important as the reality that we all (more than we ever care to) experience similar moments of confusion and puzzlement.  Moments of communication breakdown.  

So, what can we do about it?

The Anatomy of Communication

Let’s talk senders and receivers, encoding and decoding, and noise.  At its simplest, communication consists of a sender who has to accurately encode a message so that the receiver can rightly decode the message.  Sounds like a cinch, right?!

How can a concept that sounds so simple and so easy go off the rails so quickly?

Noise Fuels Communication Breakdown

When we communicate, how often do we account for the noise that muddies communication?  

What’s noise?  Noise is anything that affects the sender’s process and ability to encode and the receiver’s process and ability to decode.  More plainly, tired, frustrated, long days, divided attention, feeling under the weather, perception, and lived experience all produce noise in our communication.

Types of Noise

Noise can be physical, environmental, social, or even emotional.  

For example, physical noise can be on display in fatigue. Thoughts like “I’m tired, and I don’t have the bandwidth for this” can creep into the communication process.  

Environmental noise can be, “It’s really loud in here, and I cannot focus.” How often has your attention drifted off, losing the fight to drown out the television or the music playing in the background?  

Social noise could be getting lost in social media or the 24-hour news cycles that impairs our ability to listen to people with ideas and experiences that differ from our own.  

Finally, emotional noise can include the pain we experienced during previous communication attempts.

At any rate, noise impacts one’s ability to encode with the receiver in mind or decode with the sender in mind.

Reflect on your Own Experiences

Have you tried communicating when frustrated or tired?  How did it go?  How long before the conversation got away from you, and you found yourself thinking, “What happened?  I was just trying to say…”

Communication Involves Two Different Individuals

One of the most significant factors in communication is understanding that when we communicate, we are not speaking to ourselves.  We are communicating with people with different thoughts, different ideas, different backgrounds, different assumptions, different moods, different experiences, and different understandings. Even the words that we share in the moment of our communication may mean or different things to each person.  

We are different, and it’s ok!  

So, when we send and encode messages, we must consider that these messages are being sent and encoded to people who do not necessarily think or reason the same way we do.  They have their own process of receiving and decoding information and their own set of assumptions that spring forth from the words they receive.  They have their own background, customs, and culture that shape how they interpret the message that was sent.  If we don’t put in the time, effort, energy, and attention to understand the person we are communicating with, we will more than likely send mixed messages. At best, we will send messages that are ripe for confusion, frustration, and disconnection.

Truthfully, when we communicate only from the place of, “Let me get my point across,” we often do not get our point across.  Read that again.

Avoid Future Communication Breakdowns

Clear, effective, and healthy communication takes honesty and humility, awareness and acceptance, patience and practice.  In other words, communication takes work.

Hearing and listening to others is just as important as being heard.

If you are ready to take the next step towards healthy communication and to move away from constant collisions in your relationships, you don’t have to go at it alone.  I’m here to help!  Call 601-362-7020 to schedule an appointment with me, Candi Crawford.