Six Misconceptions About Communication

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You may have heard the statement, “communication is everything,” or “communication can solve all problems.” While I will say that communication is important to the success of any relationship, it is not everything and does not solve all problems. There are six misconceptions about communication or communication myths, and understanding these misconceptions about communication can help boost your communication effectiveness while reducing, if not preventing, misunderstandings.

The Six Misconceptions About Communication

Myth #1: Communication Requires Complete Understanding

It is a flawed assumption that communication aims to maximize understanding between communicators when it requires a person’s complete understanding. In fact, there are times when communication is not about achieving complete understanding.

Take, for instance, when people engage in social questioning or small talk. They may ask you, “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?” The reality is that the person asking is often not interested in the details of how you are doing. They are merely engaging in social small talk. Additionally, a competent communicator may purposefully convey ambiguous messages. For example, think about what you would say if someone you care about asks a personal question you’d rather not answer, like “Do you think I’m attractive” or “Is anything bothering you?” You may not feel like responding to their question, rendering the communication ambiguous or without complete understanding.

Myth #2: Communication Solves All Problems

If it were true, then we would have fewer problems with our business, political, and personal relationships. However, it is a myth that communication solves all problems despite people believing that if they could just express themselves more effectively, they could improve their relationships.

While there is some truth to solving problems through effective communication, it is an exaggeration to say that communication is a guarantee to solve all problems. Keep in mind, as humans, we are emotional creatures. Even when we are aware of the importance of making careful decisions, intense emotions can impair our ability to make rational choices. In public policy, for example, we favor symbolic, viscerally satisfying solutions over more substantive, complex, but ultimately more effective policies when we are angry, scared, or in other elevated emotional states. Clear or effective communication would not solve the problems drummed up by such emotions.

Myth #3: Communication Is a Good Thing

Communication is a top soft skill that many employers require for new hires. It’s a skill that helps employees better communicate with peers and customers in the workplace. It’s no wonder that the misconception about communication being a good thing exists.

Communication is neither good nor bad by itself. Communication is a tool for expressing oneself. It can be for expressing pleasant feelings, facts, deliver bad news, or tell stories to preserve history. However, under different circumstances or words and actions, communication can cause physical and emotional pain, thus rendering it not always a good thing.

Myth #4: Words Define Meanings

Communication scholars contend that meaning comes from people, not words. It’s a mistake to assume that just because you use and understand a word in one way that the receiver will share the same understanding of the words that you do. We see this myth played out daily. Take, for example, the debates over the concepts such as patriotism, freedom, and honor. It’s easy to understand how people view complex ideas like these differently from one another. Disagreements occur almost regularly over the difference in perceptions of these meanings.

We can even get granular down to the meaning of a specific word. For example, the word wicked is common slang in the New England states, which means something cool or excellent. Yet, if you used the term in a phrase like, “She’s wicked” in the south, they can misunderstand it as an insult. It’s the same word, but interpreted differently by different people.

Myth #5: Communication Is Simple

It is simplistic to assume that communication is a natural ability. Yes, you have been exchanging ideas and words with others since you could speak as a child. And yes, there are people who can naturally communicate effectively and clearly, getting their point across with minimal to no misunderstanding. However, the truth of the matter is that communication is like athletic ability: With training and practice, even the less skilled communicator can learn to be an effective communicator.

effective communication cartoonMyth #6: It’s Better To Communicate More

There are situations in which too much communication is not a good idea, even if it’s true that not communicating enough is a mistake. We have a tendency to over communicate and talk about a problem to death. We tend to take the problem and go over it so much that we do not gain any ground in solving the issue.

There are other scenarios that over communicating can aggravate a problem. The over communication can cause the speaker to talk themselves “into a hole” — making a critical situation worse by going too far or saying too much. Sometimes, not communicating is a better course of action. Take, for example, a salesperson. They know when to speak and when to listen, which good salespeople listen more than speak. In this scenario, it’s better to communicate less than more.

Finally, when two people in a relationship argue, it’s better to speak less to avoid saying hurtful things they may regret later. The key to successful communication in this scenario is to share an adequate amount of information skillfully at the right time. A heated argument is hardly the right time.

Final Thoughts

Communication is crucial to your success in any type of relationship. As communicators, we need to be realistic about the expectations for communication. The six misconceptions of communication lay the groundwork for better understanding on how to use communication skillfully. The effective communicator will know how the myths impact their communication and better change their communication to avoid falling prey to any of the six communication myths.

Communication Activity: Misunderstandings

Remember a time when a misunderstanding between you and another person led to a mistake or a humorous situation. Reflect on why the miscommunication or how you may have interpreted the communication incorrectly. Can you identify ways you could have clarified with the sender what the actual intent of the message was? Since the misunderstanding, have you improved your ability to clarify communication and if so, what steps did you take to better understand the communicator?

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