Some of you may be familiar with the Led Zepplin song Communication Breakdown. If you're not, I suggest looking into it if you're a fan of classic rock and roll. But communication breakdown is more than just a Led Zepplin song. It can be a very real problem in relationships, work, and education. In the art of communication, the process goes through four stages. The first stage is the speaker thinks of what they'd like to express. Then they state it (this part has the fancy name of encoding). The listener hears what the speaker says. And then they interpret it (this part has the fancy name of decoding). Most communication problems come in the decoding side of the exchange but there is a lot to be said about the problems on the encoding side too.
Sometimes, we may make a mistake in what we're saying or use an expression that isn't the right fit for what we're trying to express. That would be an encoding problem. And sometimes we may hear the speaker say something that sound different from what they were trying to say (like when the phone has reception problems and you only catch half of what the speaker is saying) or the speaker may phrase things in a way we're not familiar with. That would be a decoding problem.
The trick is neither person may be aware that there is a communication breakdown until the next statement is made. Or one may have a strong emotional response to incorrect information and not hear the follow up statement (which only makes the communication breakdown even worse). So, how does one resolve a communication breakdown? The answer is simple - ask questions to clarify what is being said if you are having a decoding problem and rephrase your initial statement in greater clarity if you're having an encoding problem.
It is easy to assume that what you hear is accurate. Most of the time, communication flows pretty well and communication breakdown is fairly minor. Often, misstatements are ignored. Sometimes, however, they can have disastrous consequences. This is why, I personally, take the approach of whenever I suspect that I have misheard someone to always ask for clarification. And whenever I misphrase something, I make a point of pausing the conversation and repeating myself in a clearer fashion.
Some good expressions to use when asking someone to clarify what they have said are:
- I'm sorry, I didn't catch what you said. Could you please repeat that?
- Excuse me, did you say [repeat what you believe the speaker said]?
- I do not understand. Are you saying [repeat what you believe the speaker said]?
In the case of you having difficulty phrasing something so that your listener can understand you clearly, here are a few tips to help you out.
- Excuse me, I misspoke. [Rephrase your statement in simpler language.]
- I'm sorry, I didn't say that quite right. [Rephrase your statement in clearer language.]
- Pardon me, I made a mistake. What I meant to say was [Rephrase your statement in a more direct fashion.]
These communication tricks work best as soon as you are aware there is a communication breakdown. It can stop an argument before it even begins. It can also help solve problems, make sure that everyone in the situation has correct information, and possibly save a relationship if applied for every communication challenge that comes up. This is what's helped my husband and I maintain a 30 year relationship with only one or two big fights. Those happened early on before either of us figured out how to use these tools. Take it from me, it works really well.