Seven Strategies to Avoid Misunderstandings

A couple sitting on the couch having a misunderstanding.

When you deal with others, at some point, you’re going to have misunderstandings. Relationships can certainly overcome misunderstandings, but they can also become strained by them. So, while misunderstandings can be corrected, it is still better to avoid them whenever possible. Misunderstandings are easier to prevent than to resolve.

Here are 7 strategies to help you avoid misunderstandings when dealing with others:

  1. Think before delivering your message:

Many misunderstandings can be avoided by taking a moment to really think about the situation. Before you deliver your message, think about the following:

  • What is going on?
  • What information are you trying to convey?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What might the other person be thinking and feeling?
  • How might their perspective differ from yours?
  • How do you think the other person will interpret what you do or say?
  1. Repeat back what was said:

If you’re trying to come to an agreement with someone, have them repeat back what you’ve said. You should also repeat back what you’ve heard them say. This will help demonstrate that you both have the same understanding of what was said. If you find that you don’t both have the same understanding, you can work to get clarification right away, rather than sometime down the road. It’s easier to smooth out any misunderstandings immediately rather than later.

  1. Listen:

One way to minimize your contribution to the problem of misunderstanding is to listen and concentrate on what’s being communicated to you. Many times, during a conversation, we can find ourselves more focused on what we want to say next rather than on what the other person is saying to us. Also, in this fast-paced world, there is so much to distract us. Work on your ability to focus on the person and actively listen to what they are saying.

Listening is a very valuable skill, and the more you practice it, the better you will get at it.

  1. Sometimes communicating in written form might be better:

It’s easy for the details of a conversation to be forgotten. When you need to communicate something very detailed, sometimes it might be best to do it in writing. Write a note or send an email. This can be especially true when dealing with issues on your job. When you provide the other person with written details, they can reference them again to ensure they remember and understand what was communicated to them.

However, keep in mind that when you are communicating by writing a note or email, you aren’t always able to get instant feedback from the person you’re communicating with. Which can lead to misunderstanding if the person has questions about what you’ve written. You might consider first communicating the details verbally and then providing a recap in written form. Or conversely, provide written details and then follow up with verbal communication.

  1. Take a break when emotions are running high:

Misunderstandings are more likely to happen during times of heightened emotions. When you are feeling overly emotional or stressed, it might be better to wait until you’re more settled before trying to communicate important information to anyone. Or before trying to fully absorb important information from someone else. Take a break and have the conversation another time.

  1. Be specific:

Being vague can lead to misunderstandings. Be as specific as possible. Avoid forcing people to guess what you mean. Spell it out clearly so that anyone can understand what you’re saying. Making assumptions can cause misunderstandings. Being crystal clear is in everyone’s best interest.

  1. Ask questions:

Think of anything you might have misunderstood and ask for clarification. Questions are a great way to ensure you’ve understood what was communicated to you. You can also ask questions to verify you were understood. Here are some of the types of questions you might ask:

  • “Okay, so you need me to….?”
  • “Just so we’re clear, it would help you if I….?”
  • “So, you understand that I need you to pick up the kids at…?”
  • “So, the project deadline is at 7:00 am or pm?”

When communicating with others, we share thoughts and exchange information. Following these 7 strategies can help ensure that the exchange has taken place accurately and completely and you’ll find that you have fewer misunderstandings when dealing with others.

Published by Ron Richardson

I'm Ron Richardson. I specialize in goals coaching. As your coach, I will help you set realistic goals and partner with you to create a plan and action steps toward achieving those goals. I'll provide objectivity, consistent support and hold you accountable to the commitments you make toward accomplishing your goals.

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