Communication Consequences

“I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Alan Greenspan

This quote could most likely be applied to a very large percentage of our conversations. You understand what you mean, but does the person with whom you’re speaking share that same understanding?

Clearly, not all miscommunication has the disastrous consequences described in the video, but can nonetheless result in many, many mistakes and considerable time lost or wasted. Some of the most frequent examples I’ve heard in business situations:

  • I would like this as soon as possible.” To the speaker, this may mean “right now”. However, the recipient of the directive will apply their own view of what is possible, which might mean now, tomorrow …or next week.
  • OK, great meeting, everyone knows what they need to do.” Do they? Does each participant have the same understanding of what they need to do and by when? 
  • Great job.” It is excellent practice to praise good work, but if you want to see that excellence repeated, you need to specify what exactly the individual did well.
  • I need you to do a better job on this.” What precisely needs to change?
  • I really need your support on this project.” Again, what exactly are you requesting that this person do to support you?

We’ve all uttered these – or very similar – phrases and believed others knew what we meant. And when that is not the case, and we don’t get the results we sought, it’s very easy to place the responsibility for the miscommunication on the other individuals.

However WE, not they, are accountable for what others take away from our communication. If we make every effort, either vocally or in writing, to be clear about our intent and our expectations, so many misunderstandings and errors may be avoided. This also gives others the opportunity to counter, e.g. “I can’t have it done this morning, but can get it to you by the end of the day”, allowing you both to come away with the same expectations.

Do you have other examples of miscommunication to share? I would love to hear them!


Fundamental #9 Communicate to be understood Communicate in the least complicated way, so that your audience understands you. This applies to all communication: Spoken, written, illustrated, etc. We are accountable for what people take from our communication. 

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