Sources of Miscommunication

On Friday I will be presenting an Effective Communication course for employees at the City of Flagstaff. The afternoon sessions will be focused on sources of miscommunication.

I plan to highlight:

  • Assumptions
  • Impact vs. Intent
  • Not Listening
  • Appreciation vs. Coaching vs. Evaluation

You may have heard the phrase, when you ASSUME you make an ass out of “u” and me. Assumptions can be deadly and most people know that, but where do they come from? We dive into the Ladder of Inference and the neuroscience behind how our brains process new information to find out.

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What about impact versus intent? This is the idea that we judge someone else’s intent by the impact that it has on us. So when a driver cuts you off on the road and it causes you to have to swerve or break suddenly, you assume (that word again!) that the driver was intending to cause you harm. It is difficult if not impossible to know another person’s intent. It is much easier to know the impact you felt. Separating the two is a insightful jiu jitsu that can help you navigate sticky situations.

Of course not listening can lead to miscommunication. You are probably thinking right now some variation of, “Yea, if my spouse would just listen to me we wouldn’t be in this mess”. But how good are you at listening? At the workshop we play a game to test your listening skills and realize some of the barriers we all face in listening to understand rather than be heard.

Finally, miscommunication often happens when someone tries to give us feedback. In their book, Thanks for the Feedback Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen distinguish three types of feedback: Appreciation, Coaching, and Evaluation. As they point out, conflict may arise from a person wanting one type of feedback and getting a different type. For example, right after putting on a big event you may just want to hear a little appreciation. YAY! It is done and we survived! Evaluation of how the event when can wait for a day or so. That doesn’t mean you never want to evaluate and learn about how to make the event better. It only means that timing is crucial. Midnight with sore feet and relief over crossing the metaphorical finish line is not the time for list making.

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