Five Steps to handling a misunderstanding - Mike Irving

Five steps to handle a misunderstanding

Misunderstandings ruin relationships. Whether it’s a marriage, a business partnership, or your neighbour, a misunderstanding can cause a lot of damage.

When a misunderstanding occurs, who caused the problem?

The answer is, everyone involved in the conversation.

If you have something to say, it’s up to you to ensure that the person you are delivering your message to has understood what you’ve said. You’d do this by asking a few questions to check that they duplicated your intended message.

At the same time, if you’re being spoken to it’s up to you to ensure that you understand what’s been said. If anything is said that you’re not 100% certain you understand, it’s crucial that you ask questions to clarify.

So, how do misunderstandings happen?
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The simple answer is when one, or both parties don’t ensure that they have the same idea of what was spoken about, or what decision was made.

If a misunderstanding does happen (and they often do), here’s 5 steps to handle it.

  1. Ask for permission to discuss about the situation. This might sound stupid, or really basic. It’s not. In fact, if you ask for permission, you then have a willing participant, and you’ve acknowledged their choice to not talk about it then and there. You are now both engaged in the conversation.
  2. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Acknowledge the person and their reality, even if it’s different to yours. If you go into this conversation wanting to be right, or to prove that you are right and they are wrong, you’re in trouble before you start.
  3. Find the source of the misunderstanding and correct it. By asking questions, you’ll find the exact source of the misunderstanding. It could be a word, a sentence, or even just a bit of body language that was used. You’ll know when you find it because all of a sudden, there will be an observable change. The room might feel lighter, or the other person all of a sudden lightens up, or breathes a sigh. There are lots of positive indicators that an happen.
  4. Check that understanding has been reached and the emotions dealt with.When a misunderstanding occurs, there is often emotion involved. The severity of the emotion will be dependant upon the topic, and who is involved. If you get the lightening up of the situation as described above, it will then help to confirm that understanding has been reached. Ask questions and confirm that you both have the same understanding. It pays not to rush this. Observe whether or not there are any emotions still hanging around. If there are, ask more questions about this.
  5. Confirm that this understanding is now in place and move forward. This seems like a simple step, or like a repeat of number 4. It’s not. It’s about confirming and acknowledging together that we both agree on our understanding, and we’re ready to move forward.

There’s a lot more depth to communication than what most people understand. It’s easy to assume that if you’re comfortable talking to people, that means you have excellent communication skills.

In my experience, that’s not usually case. As you begin to break down communication and look at what’s actually involved, it’s far more complex than people realise.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can develop your communication skills, check out our Leadership & Communication Skills Accelerator 2-day workshop.

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