Unsplash.com|Lukaz Maknica | Communicating or not!
I speak, and you listen, or you speak, and I listen. This is communication, or is it? We both use the same language and if one of us grew up with another as our primary language, it creates even more difficulties. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines languages as “a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release.” So, language is a system of convention. We were taught these conventions growing up by our parents and friends. But unfortunately, we are not all taught the same things.
This leads to frustration of miscommunication and the misunderstanding that can come with it. Miscommunication and misunderstanding can impact our relationships, work, and other areas of life. This blog will explore communication and three reasons it often fails. Remember the adage when giving a speech: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, and finally tell them again.” This was clearly an attempt to make sure your points got across to your listeners. This is so true still today. But first, let’s talk about what communication is.
Miriam Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” From this definition, we are in trouble already. It assumes we have a common set of words and gestures that we all understand the same way. It is no wonder we have miscommunications and misunderstandings. So, here are the three top reasons that I feel communication fails.
Communication fails because we use inherently ambiguous language. Words like right, wrong, good, and bad have different meanings for each of us. Communication breakdowns can arise from complex factors that differ from conversation to conversation. Cultural differences, language barriers, and our own biases can all contribute to a lack of understanding between parties.
Navigating language ambiguity can be tricky, but with patience and a willingness to learn, creating meaningful connections with people from different cultures is possible. The key is to remain open-minded, ask questions when something isn’t clear, understand another person’s perspective, and accept that there may be more than one way of communicating any message. Doing so can bridge gaps between cultures and foster mutual understanding despite language barriers.
Communication fails because we have been raised in different social environments. Each of these environments creates a set of biases and a way we see the world around us. Social norms such as gender roles, cultural expectations, and linguistic traditions affect communication. These social constructs shape how we express ourselves and interact with others, even if we are unaware of them. For example, differences in gender roles may lead to different levels of assertiveness or politeness between individuals. Similarly, cultural expectations may create barriers to understanding one another’s perspectives since these may be rooted in different values or beliefs. In addition, linguistic traditions or dialects can make it difficult for individuals to understand each other’s meanings due to different interpretations of the same words.
I lived in several parts of the United States and traveled to several countries. I am amazed that we can communicate clearly. England English, American English, New Zealand English, and Australian English all claim to be English but are different. It’s a wonder we can communicate when you throw in French, German, and Spanish, along with the African variations, not to mention the languages from the far east. But despite this, we try.
Communication fails because we are not taught how to listen and ask questions that lead to understanding because of the filters we apply to the incoming message. Taking the time to ask questions and understand how someone else communicates is essential for effective communication. Doing so will help us develop respect for one another’s perspectives and create an environment where everyone can feel comfortable expressing their ideas without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. Clarifying questions should be open-ended and focused on understanding the other person’s point of view without assuming. By asking questions and listening carefully to the answers, we are more likely to understand each other’s perspectives. This can help us break down barriers created by language ambiguity or cultural differences. When both parties are willing to put in the effort to build bridges between them, it is easier for healthy communication with mutual understanding to take place.
Dealing with language ambiguity
So what can we do? Navigating language ambiguity can be tricky, but with patience and a willingness to learn, creating meaningful connections with people from different cultures is possible. Learn to listen carefully and ask meaningful questions from an attitude and desire to understand rather than an attitude of trying to prove you are right.
The key is to remain open-minded and ask questions when something isn’t clear. Understand another person’s perspective, and accept that there may be multiple ways of communicating any message. Doing so can bridge gaps between cultures and foster mutual understanding despite language barriers.