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  • Writer's pictureFiona Murray

Avoiding Misunderstandings

How can we avoid misunderstandings in a conversation?

There are two sides to every conversation, the speaker and the listener but sometimes it can seem that each one has a different conversation going on alongside the one you could record! So, try to follow the following guidelines in conversations and perhaps they will go a bit more smoothly!

When we say something, we should try to be clear about what it is that we want to say and to avoid too many implicit i.e. hidden messages. For instance, when you say “The traffic light is green.” Make sure you only want to alert the driver to the fact that the light has changed rather than try to convey the message “you should have noticed that the light had changed, why are you so slow when you know that I’m late for my appointment?” by using a condemnatory tone of voice!

Being clear about what you want to say before you speak makes it easier for the listener to identify where you are coming from. That includes body language and facial expressions that match your message (congruency), so as not to confuse the listener.

As the speaker you can prepare the listener for your message by clarifying, for example, saying, "My personal feeling about this is..." or "I want to express my standpoint..." when you want to emphasize self-revelation.

If you want something from someone, try to say it explicitly, "I need your help with..." instead of "I have to do this project all by myself."

If you see that the listener hasn't picked up the message you have sent - and often this shows itself with annoyance - go to the emotional level and try to identify the feeling of the other person and why they are feeling that way. ("You're feeling...because...")

As the listener you have choices to make about which part of what you are hearing you are going to emphasise. It is often helpful to first try to identify where the speaker is coming from, i.e. really listen. Is she giving me information and/or telling me about herself (self- revelation)? Then I can use attentive listening skills and help her identify her feelings. Is she asking me to do something (appeal)? Then I can decide if I want to be active or set limits. Is she saying something about our relationship? Then I can go to the emotional level and use attentive listening skills, "You're feeling..." messages, until the relationship aspect is clarified and the conversation can move on to other aspects; self-revelation, information or appeal.

Bearing all this in mind, although an effort at first, can lead to conversation and relationships going along more smoothly!

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