6 Causes Of Miscommunication: How To Use Plain Language Effectively

The purpose of communication is to convey information from one person to another. By choosing written and spoken words, ideas, concepts, emotions, thoughts and opinions are exchanged. Unfortunately, communication problems are common: the listener or reader does not understand what is being said or written. Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Make Friends and Influence People,” said, “90 percent of all management problems are due to poor communication.”

When you consider the tensions between men and women, young and old, friends and family, it seems that most people are guilty of poor communication. But it is possible to develop effective communication skills by learning to speak and write simply and clearly, using plain language that most people easily understand.

Common poor communications

“If you have time, try mowing the lawn this afternoon,” the father said as he walked through the door to his office. Your teenage son, head down, focused on breakfast, growls in response, “Aha”. Much to his father’s dismay, the garden remained intact when he returned home. The son, confronted by his angry father, excused his inaction with the explanation: “You said ‘if I had time’ and I was at the mall all day.

This scene is repeated every day in thousands of homes across the country. The father was guilty of not saying what he really meant: his intention was to have his son mow the lawn that afternoon, even if it meant he had to rearrange his schedule or miss another activity. In an effort to avoid sounding controlling, the father added the bogus “if he has time” condition, hoping his son will interpret the underlying meaning of his statement. Your child naturally focused on the conditional “if you have the time” rather than the meaning “mowing the lawn”. As a result, both parties felt unfairly treated by the other.

Similar misunderstandings arise at work, in schools, on the playground and at home. Whether speaking or writing, misunderstandings arise due to the wrong choice of words and the inability to realize that communication has two equally critical components: the speaker and the listener, or the writer and the reader. As Boston Celtics NBA Hall of Fame Coach Red Auerbach said, “It’s not what you tell them… it’s what they hear.”

The test of effective communications

Communications are effective when the recipient of a thought, whether listening or reading, understands the meaning intended by the speaker or writer. Good communication is simple and straightforward, sometimes intensified by emotion, but never confusing.

For example, when he asked his son to mow the lawn, the father in the above scenario would have done better if he had taken the time to make sure his son listened and chose his words more carefully. :

“Mike,” the father said to his son as he left to go to work. The father paused, waiting for the teenager to look up from the cereal he was swallowing. “We’re leaving town this weekend, so you have to mow the grass today. A problem with that?

” No sir. I was going to the mall with Ted and Jim, but I can do this before I go.

“Awesome. Appreciate. See you tonight,” the father said as he stepped out. The grass was mowed and mowed, and the family spent an evening without incident.

Both speaker and listener agreed with the “mow the lawn today” message. The father did not add a false option, and the son repeated his understanding of the message, confirming the communication.

Whether it’s a cop talking to a criminal, a parent talking to a child, a manager with his staff, or a preacher with his flock, plain language combined with other communication skills. communication increases understanding and relationships between parties.

Causes of lack of communication

According to scientists, humans began to speak around 100,000 years ago, and writing began around 4,000 BC. Before written language, humans used images (rock drawings), which evolved into word symbols. The evolution of language, what some have called the “human communication system”, proves that the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is wrong, as it is almost impossible to convey conditional, complex, or complicated ideas with one. simple image.

While some linguists suggest that it is impossible to accurately count the number of words in the English language, the Global Language Monitor said that there were 1,013,913 words as of January 1, 2012, with a new word created every 98 minutes. Due to the large number of words available, the risk of confused communication is high, even when two people have similarly sized vocabulary. The specific words that each person knows, as well as the understood meaning of each word, can vary widely due to different environments, cultures and experiences.

1. Misaligned vocabularies

“Plain language” refers to the preference for words that are part of one’s vocabulary, what linguists call “core vocabulary,” which consists of around 200 to 300 words. These words are mainly verbs, pronouns, and demonstratives, such as “his” and “that”, which help distinguish the subject to which the speaker or writer is referring. These words are used frequently and in many contexts to express meaning and intention, usually without misunderstanding.

As the initiator of communication, the speaker or writer should choose words that are easily understood by the listener or reader. For example, a 10-year-old is unlikely to understand the meaning of “plethora”, so “a lot” or “a lot” would be better options. A communicator should always consider his audience when communicating.

2. Disorderly thinking

Disorderly thinking results in disordered speech, which usually occurs when someone starts speaking before they have completed their thought process. As a result, listeners are taken on long and complicated journeys full of contradictions, strange information and premature conclusions.

Confused thoughts often arise during times of stress or strong emotions. Remember Plato’s observation: the wise speak because they have something to say, while the fools speak because they have to say something. In other words, think about the intent of your message before you speak, and when speaking, choose language that is specific, clear, and easy to understand.

3. Wrong definitions

Homophones are words that sound similar or almost similar, but have different definitions. For example, “discreet” means careful and circumspect, while “discreet” means distinct or separate.

Other examples include:

  • odious – aberrant
  • alternative – alternative
  • disassemble – disassemble
  • to emigrate – to immigrate
  • flet – founder
  • horde – treasure

Your choice of words is important because the wrong word can confuse the listener or reader. If in doubt, consult a dictionary or just don’t use the word.

4. False courtesy

Although politeness is a desirable trait in all societies, it is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. Politeness is a matter of context: what may be considered rude or thoughtless in one situation may be appropriate in another. A parent who warns a child to get off the street should not place more importance on the child’s feelings than on safety; A supervisor who punishes a subordinate for poor performance should not dilute or confuse the message in the hopes of being seen as “nice”. Courtesy means being aware and attentive to how actions and words affect others, but that doesn’t mean beating around the bush or faking emotions.

5. Sloppy language habits

Unconscious patterns of thinking, speaking and interacting develop over time. These habits affect your daily activities and your relationship with your surroundings. They occur during speaking and writing and often lead to lack of communication.

Be careful when using the following:

  • Acronym. Acronyms are shortened versions of phrases or names of organizations formed by combining alphabetic characters to create a new word, such as OSHA, short for the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Acronyms save time and can improve recall of the underlying meaning. Unfortunately, acronyms are so ubiquitous in speech and print that their meaning is often misinterpreted. For example, the meaning of the acronym “ACA” could be correctly interpreted as “Affordable Care Act”, “American Correctional Association”, “American Camp Association” or “American Chiropractic Association”. If you are using an acronym, be sure to provide its meaning so your audience won’t be confused.
  • Jargon and colloquialisms. Many social, business or professional groups develop special vocabularies to describe specific concepts and activities in their group (“jargon”). Examples include “baluster” in architecture, “arabesque” in ballet, and “all in” in poker. Colloquialisms are expressions and words from specific geographic regions that are often used in conversation, but not in formal writing. The meaning of “pot liquor”, a term used to describe the juices left in a pot after cooking peas or cabbage, would be easily understood in the South, but less above the Mason-Dixon line. Slang and colloquialisms can add color to speech and writing, even improving comprehension where their meanings are understood, but the potential for misunderstandings remains high.
  • Hypotheses, stereotypes and allusions. It is well known that using assumptions (taking something for granted or without proof) can make you look bad. Stereotypes (inaccurate simplistic generalizations) and allusions (indirect references, often erroneous) can have the same result: confuse the desired message and confuse listeners or readers. There is little to gain from their use and a lot to lose, so avoid them as much as possible.
  • Buzzwords. Words that sound awesome but don’t convey a special meaning are in a special class on their own. They have no place in smart speech or writing. The use of buzzwords is so blatant that drinking games are based on their use in political speeches. However, politicians are not the only culprits; some corporate cultures are infamous for their use. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert’s Principle, even suggests that employees learn to use big, vague words as they progress through management, preferring a phrase like “I used my multi-tooth tool.” to process a starch resource “to” I used my fork to eat a potato. “

6. Spoken and legal government

Legal and regulatory documents are particularly confusing due to both the use of technical terms and a culture that often rewards word of mouth rather than quality and intent. According to Slate writer Matthew Yglesias, “Hard-to-understand rules are a lawyer’s best friend, and the need for businesses to do so is a huge [competitive] advantage for large entities or established entities.”

Poorly drafted government documents ultimately led to the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 and the creation of a public plain language website,, to “promote the use of plain language for all people. government communications ”. Unsurprisingly, the need to improve written communication extends beyond American borders and even beyond the English language. Organizations around the world are dedicated to improving understanding of government documents through the use of plain language: Plain Language Association International in Canada, COSLA in France and CHIARO! in Italy.

Last word

Plain language, when combined with other good communication skills, helps increase the accurate communication of relevant information. By incorporating an iterative “feedback loop” into critical or important communications, you can dramatically improve comprehension and retention of spoken and written words. Simply ask the listener or reader to repeat their understanding of the communication in their own words to ensure that the correct information has been received and recalled. And when in doubt, remember the words of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman: “Talking constantly is not necessarily communicating.

How do you make sure you communicate effectively?

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