We’ve all been in that conversation. The one where you’ve been totally misunderstood and you’re standing there thinking,
I didn’t say that! Were you even listening?!
What it comes down to is this: communication is about what they hear, not what you said. So if you were spouting off brilliant solutions to great mysteries, but no one had any idea what you were talking about – then communication didn’t happen. Miscommunication and confusion happened instead.
As legendary coach, John Wooden has said, “You haven’t taught until they’ve learned.”
To the best of my knowledge, here are some of the main culprits to lead to miscommunication:
The Speaker Didn’t Understand His Message
If you don’t know how to say it, how are they supposed to know what you mean? Seriously. There’s a well known saying in the world of preaching, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” If you can’t summarize your message in a sentence or two (and don’t try using elaborate grammatical constructions so your sentence is correct even though it should be broken into three… that’s cheating and you know it!).
Maybe you’re trying to say too much. Maybe you’re just quoting a bunch of other people’s opinions instead of presenting your own material. Maybe you’ve had a busy week but you still feel the pressure to present. Simplify your message until you really understand what you’re trying to say.
The Speaker Didn’t Understand His Audience
You’re not speaking to nobody. You’re speaking to somebody. And they matter! So get to know who they are, how they think, and how they learn. Once you know those things, then say it like that. Afterall, your message intended to serve the listener (not you), so put them first!
The key to communication (in marriage, in business, in teaching, etc.) is getting the same idea from your head into the other person’s head. There are filters that message will travel through after it leaves your mouth and before it enters the other person’s ears. Do your best to understand what those filters are and how they will influences the listener’s understanding of your message.
The Listener Heard What They Wanted To Hear
One of the realities of conversation is that people tend to hear what they expect to hear.
Take Deflategate as one recent example. Patriots fans hear all the reports and studies as evidence that the league is conspiring against the Patriots organization and Tom Brady. Others see the same information and draw the conclusion that the Patriots and Brady are shady and corrupt. Same message. Same information. Two totally different conclusions, because we tend to hear what we expect to hear. It’s only when the listener is willing to do the necessary work to understand the message that he or she can begin to put their biases aside and actually hear what the communicator is saying.
The Listener Wasn’t Listening
This cannot be avoided. Sometimes the listener just isn’t paying attention. They’re distracted. Maybe it’s for a good reason (they have a severe migraine), or maybe it’s not (they’re thinking about what’s for dinner tonight). Either way, the result is the same: they’re simply not listening to you.
As a speaker, you can make it easy for people to jump back into the message by telling a story or adding some element of humor to recapture people’s attention. I’m assuming that you’re a good speaker and you aren’t droning on about irrelevant babble. Know your content and develop a good delivery method for the people to whom you’re speaking. But, ultimately, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about this one. They. Just. Aren’t. Listening.
As a pastor, this is immensely important to remember. Without any exaggeration, I am convinced the message of the gospel is the most important message in the world. Because of that conviction, it is essential for me to know my message and to know my audience so they would see and understand the good news is more compelling and beautiful than any other message they could ever receive.
Next time you’re having one of “those” conversations… try to back up and ask where the failure to communicate happened. If you can pinpoint the failure, you just may be able to salvage the conversation.