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4 Tutorials that teach What You Mean is What I Heard: Communication Errors
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What You Mean is What I Heard: Communication Errors

What You Mean is What I Heard: Communication Errors

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand how communication errors and miscommunication can arise from the absence of a confirmation message.

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A couple of years ago, a friend shared a quote with me that I think sums up what can go wrong in communication perfectly. So, I'd like to share that quote with you. Here it is. I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. I think so often that happens in communication. We think that what we hear is what the person communicating meant, and we are making assumptions without checking them out.

I'm Marlene, and in this tutorial I'd like to talk with you about this communication, how it happens, and how it can lead to conflict. So, let's start by defining miscommunication. It's a state in which a receiver has interpreted a message in a way other than intended by the sender of the message. Similar to the quote I read. Someone has interpreted a message in a way that was not intended. Typically this happens when we don't ask for confirmation. We think we understand, but we don't confirm our understanding.

So, how does this happen? Well, it takes someone sending a message and someone receiving a message. Let me give you an example. We'll say Jean, we'll call her a person who wants to send a message, and Amy, a person who's going to receive a message. So Jean is the sender. And in communication, the person moving information from him or herself to another, we refer to as the sender. And Amy is the receiver. And in communication, the person receiving information from another is called the receiver.

So, Jean, our sender, tells Amy, the receiver, to meet her at the coffee shop. Amy says, great! What time? And they talk about the time, what time they're going to meet, and when. Perfect. Amy's excited to meet Jean at the coffee shop. Amy goes to the wrong coffee shop, and Jean's across town wondering where are you. They get on their cell phones, and there's a conflict. Amy had interpreted the coffee shop to mean one that they typically went to. Jean claimed she told Amy that she was going to a different coffee shop. At this point, it becomes no you didn't, yes you did. I heard, no, I didn't because no one confirmed which coffee shop. So, if you've ever been in a situation where you had something like that, something similar happen, you know what I mean about miscommunication. So, you send a message, and it's not interpreted.

Now, a message, we think it's simple, but here's the definition of a message. It's a "packet" of information, which has been encoded, and is moved from sender to receiver. And in this instance, it was verbal. Now, it could have been confirmed by another phone call. Could have been confirmed via text. You're going to need just want to confirm, you know, which coffee shop. There are any number of ways that a confirmation could have been sent by either Jean or Amy.

Let's look at another example of how this could happen. You're at work, and you get an email request from somebody on your team, and they say, I need this data immediately. Please get it to me now. You think my. That sounds bossy, and you are put off by this. And what you're hearing is anger and upset with you, and that's what you're assuming. And without checking it out, you may never know that really the person who sent you this, had just found out that she has a new deadline, and quickly sent this message to you, not intending the tone to come across the way it did.

So, tone is another example. And that can happen not only on email, but it might happen if someone's speaking to you. You may have a family member say, you always do that. And that's a hot button word, always or never. And immediately, it can get in the way of what the person is trying to communicate to you. And without some discussion or confirmation of what the person is intending here, there could be conflict. One more example, sometimes we misinterpret the same word. We have different meanings for it.

Let's say you're at work, and you're in a meeting, and your boss says, we decided that when you come to the conference, it's casual dress. So, it's casual dress over the next day and a half. You think great. Casual dress, and you show up in jeans. And you're taken aside and set, and told, jeans are not considered business casual. So, you're going to have to wear something other than jeans. You didn't know this. You didn't understand what was meant by casual, or in this case, business casual. So, now you are embarrassed, and you are in a situation that you didn't intend, but you hadn't checked out business casual meant in this context.

So, those are some examples of how when miscommunication can happen. When we don't confirm with one another what we heard, and what we thought someone meant. So, I've been having that situation happen to me from time to time, and I've learned from it that it's always best to confirm what you think somebody understood before moving ahead. I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A "packet" of information which has been encoded and is moved from sender to receiver.


A state in which a receiver has interpreted a message in a way other than that intended by the sender of the message.


In communication, the person receiving information from another.


In communication, the person moving information from him or herself to another.