The Reason and the Remedy of the Most Common Communication Problem

Google is great if you know how to formulate a relevant search query. To do that, you need to have some knowledge on the topic such as basic terminology. In other words, you need to know what you don’t know to search for it on Google.

Most of the time, we don’t know what we don’t know. That’s why reading books, articles, blog posts, and consuming content in other formats is so beneficial. However, sometimes, we have a burning question, and we don’t have the time to read all the books in that domain. We need a quick answer.

I such cases, Q&A sites are useful. As a programmer, Stack Overflow was a great help. I’d formulate a question and receive an answer within a day. I don’t ask questions on Stack Overflow anymore because nowadays, I can find my answers with Google fairly easy.

Google is great, but it doesn’t have the intelligence to understand what you’re really looking for if you aren’t clear about it. Q&A sites use human intelligence. If enough people read your question, there’s a good chance that one of them will have a more relevant answer than Google.

The Downside of the Q&A Sites

The online Q&A process isn’t perfect, and the reason for that is relevant to our day-to-day communication with our family, friends, and colleagues.

When you write a question on Quora, you describe the situation from your own perception, and your perception isn’t perfect. It’s clouded by your mental filters, biases, and fallacies.

When someone else reads your question, they understand the situation from their own perception. Their perception isn’t perfect because of the same reasons. As a result, that person answers a completely different question than you intend to ask.

You read their answer, and you interpret that answer using your own filters. You give a completely different meaning to their answer.

As a result, you misunderstand the wrong answer to the misunderstood question that was formulated wrongly, to begin with.

The same dynamic happens all the time in our day-to-day communication with our family, friends, and colleagues.

We misunderstand what others couldn’t express clearly, and in turn, they misinterpret our wrongly formulated responses. When these misunderstandings go back and forth enough times, we have a serious conflict.

How Can We Avoid the Misunderstandings in the First Place?

The first step is to know that your partner might have expressed themselves inaccurately or you might have misunderstood them. When you come from that place, you’ll be more kind and compassionate toward them.

The second step is to tell your partner what you have understood and ask them for confirmation. If your partner doesn’t confirm your formulation of their expression, you go back and forth until you agree on the issue.

Now, you express your views on the issue, and you repeat the same. You ask your partner how they understood your answer, and you go back and forth until you’re sure that they understood you correctly.

That way you’re sure that you understood each other correctly. There’s no room for assumptions or misunderstandings. You don’t have to agree with each other, but at least, you know where each of you stands on the matter at hand. This is a basic principle of communication.

Of course, you don’t have to clarify each sentence in each conversation, but you better do it when the stakes are high, and there seems to be a conflict and a chance of misunderstanding.

Summary

We express our views from our own mental filters and biases. We interpret other people’s expressions through the same filters and biases. As a result, there’s a great room for misunderstanding in our communication with each other.

To minimize misunderstandings, we need to ask each other questions to confirm that we have understood each other correctly. This might sound like overkill every time we have a conversation with our family, friends, and colleagues, but it’s a must when a misunderstanding can have dire consequences.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.