Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

Avoid Misunderstandings: 3 Ways I Improved The Way I Communicate

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”-George Bernard Shaw

Charlene Fate
Oct 2, 2019 · 4 min read

I have a habit of replying with the word “huh” when I can not hear what was said to me clearly and I need it to be repeated.

I’m from Virginia and where I’m from if someone says huh as a request to repeat what was stated then they are sometimes met with the phrase “If you can huh you can hear”. Meaning if you heard the sounds I made then you know what I said.

A friend of mine used to say this to me all the time. I often grew frustrated because I needed to have what was stated repeated because I could not make out the words and I have had my hearing checked, my hearing is not a problem. Sometimes we hear sounds but the words are uttered in such a way that we just don’t know what was said. It’s one of the reasons that people with perfectly good hearing watch shows with the closed caption option turned on.

Mixed Messages

I was once in a meeting with a group of people and when we left the meeting we realized that we all heard the same words but received different messages. Half of us were under the impression our project was to start immediately. The other half believed that the project was on hold until further notice. I remember thinking that I must have entered into the twilight zone. How could so many people hear completely different messages?

In 2018 an audio clip of a voice saying the word Yanni or Laurel went viral. When people listened to the exact same audio clip some people clearly heard the word Yanni and others heard Laurel. Whether it was the sound waves, volume, or pitch, it did not change the fact that the same sound was presented to people and they heard completely different words. I found this fascinating.

So, when my partner said he heard me say something that I know I did not say, maybe he was telling the truth. We process and hear sounds differently. The exact same sounds.

Maybe the smart remark I thought my daughtered muttered when I took away her cell phone privileges was innocent after all. Or maybe not.

Miscommunication can be dangerous. There have been several instances in which doctors and patients have had their wires crossed and a patient’s needs were not met because the information was misconstrued.

I made a trip to the emergency room a few years ago for chest pains but somehow after answering a few questions the doctor thought I was there for something completely different. We misunderstood each other completely. How could this happen?

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

We need to improve our communication. I like to know exactly what someone is saying when I am having a conversation. I want to be sure the information I receive is the information that was intended. Therefore I set out to improve the way I listen as well as the way I give information.


If I have any questions about the information that was given to me I immediately ask the person for clarification. I then repeat back to them in my own words what I heard. At this point, if there is any confusion we can clear it up.

Repeating works. Ever notice how the customer service representatives at a Chick Fil A restaurant repeat your order back to you at the time you order, when they take your money and give you your receipt, and before they hand you the bag? I don’t know about you but my Chick Fil A orders are almost always correct. Whereas other restaurants are consistently getting something in my order wrong and they never repeat my order back to me.

Say What You Mean

I try to say exactly what I mean. When the listener is left to decipher the meaning of what you said there is a door wide open for misunderstanding. I often find myself asking my teenage daughter to explain her teenage jargon. When she says a video game is “cold” or “sick” I have to clarify with her if those words mean good or bad in teen-speak.

Nonverbal cues

I pay attention to the facial expressions and body language a person gives off. Sometimes people may say things they don’t mean in a way to appease others or out of fear or anger. The facial expressions and body language give them away. This is a good thing. If someone is agreeing to do something for you and you see reluctance or resentment in their facial expression then you have the opportunity to let them off the hook and avoid an unpleasant situation. There are many nonverbal cues such as someone rolling their eyes, grimacing, and crossing their arms to just name a few. Pay attention to what the body is telling you and it will help to communicate more effectively.

I like to avoid the anger and frustrations that misunderstandings cause. Therefore I listen and repeat, say what I mean, and pay attention to the nonverbals. These are just a few ways of communication that help me. I’m sure you have just as many or more. Let’s share ways to improve communication to avoid the pitfalls of misunderstandings.


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