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Perspectives – Misperceptions in Communication

July/Aug, 2011

Through my 33 years as a business owner, I’ve had countless interactions with others. I have learned that communicating one’s thoughts effectively to another can be a difficult task.

Each of us has our own thoughts, and it can be quite a challenge to express them in a manner that facilitates the recipient(s) understanding of the intended meaning. We each view the world through our own set of lenses – our own perception of reality. To clearly explain our view to others so that they, too, understand our ideas, is not always an easy task.

For example, one morning my wife told me about a television commercial that she saw that she thought was funny. My wife explained the commercial to me. But in her initial explanation, I didn’t understand it, because I didn’t feel she had provided me with enough detail. It wasn’t until I probed deeper and extracted additional information about it from her that our perceptions of the commercial matched.

Misperceptions in communication are typically the result of vague conversations. Unfortunately, we don’t always take the time to ask for additional details during a conversation to ensure that the message being perceived is the message that was intended.

A method to ensure effective communication that I adopted years ago is to recap conversations. At the end of a meeting or discussion, I often ask the person to repeat the conversation. Reviewing the message is a valuable technique that helps prevent misguided direction to a task or assignment and provides clarification prior to leaving a meeting.

Misperceptions can be remedied by active observance during the message delivery process. I learned during a recent teamwork enhancement seminar that the key to introducing a new concept to people requires framing up your thoughts into a decision goal.

A decision goal outlines the motivation and vision of the concept. When I introduce a decision goal, my time and effort must be focused on observing the receiver’s nonverbal behavior to help bring about the desired goal while eliminating misperceptions.

For example, if the person I am talking to crosses his arms and legs and distances himself from the conversation, I know that they’re fearful and looking to avoid the situation. I know that a person is enthused about a message if they’re nodding and excited, and I know that they’re feeling neutral and open to my message if they are intently listening. Knowing how to read a person’s nonverbal cues helps me to understand not only how they’re reacting to my message, but also if my message is being interpreted as I intended.

The tone of voice during communication can also cause a message to become misinterpreted. How we say things is just as important as what we say. Tone of voice is powerful, and can convey feelings such as sarcasm, contentment, frustration or sympathy.

For example, if I use a sarcastic tone of voice during a serious conversation, my message might be misperceived as nonchalant. As a business owner and manager, I stress the importance of building our communication skills. Understanding how our verbal and nonverbal signals impact a conversation can make us better communicators while we send and receive messages.

Misperception in our communication is something we try to avoid, but as you can see, there are many ways our message can become lost or misunderstood. Because we each live in our own reality and have a different perception of the world, we must be aware of all the verbal and nonverbal tools to aid us in getting our message across to others effectively and understanding how that message is being perceived. In business, communicating effectively is imperative in becoming and remaining successful.

I think a great way to sum up my thoughts on communication and misperception is to share a personal belief. You’ve probably heard of the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” With this mindset, you focus on giving someone the same thing you want, which might not be their wish at all. Now that I see the imperfection of the Golden Rule, I have adopted the Platinum Rule approach: “Treat others the way they wish to be treated.” This way of thinking asks you to recognize what the other person wants, instead of focusing on your own desires.

Next time you’re communicating with someone, remember the Platinum Rule and put this little spin on it: “Communicate with others how they wish to be communicated with.”