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What's Wrong With You, Why Don't You Understand Me?


Recently while waiting for our lunch to be served in a nearby restaurant, my husband Michael and I were discussing our son's upcoming science fair project. Michael was describing the steps that my son should follow to complete the assignment. While Michael was going through this elaborate process, I diligently tried to follow what he was saying, but I sat there completely clueless. As I struggled to gain a better understanding of what he was talking about, my normally affable husband started to show distinct sings of irritation. His unspoken message was 'what's wrong with you, why don't you understand me?" He then proceeded to draw his plan on a napkin in an effort to get his brilliant idea into my dense head. It worked. When Michael started to show me what he was describing, I was able to easily understand his ideas.

People often have problems when they communicate with each other. The communication process is very complex and there are many opportunities for breakdowns to occur. As a result, people can become frustrated, instructions are not carried out correctly, people get offended, and conflict can occur. You can minimize these problems and increase the odds that others will understand you by following these simple steps:

  • Take responsibility for the communication - When we communicate with others it is very tempting to blame them for not understanding us. Surely we with our outstanding oratory skills cannot possible be at fault. The problem with this attitude is that it does not achieve our outcome of getting the other person to comprehend what we are trying to say. When we take responsibility for getting a message across to others it frees us to do whatever it takes to achieve that result.

  • Check non-verbal feedback - When you speak to someone don't assume that you are making yourself clear to the other person. Check for non-verbal feedback. People give us many clues as to whether or not they understand us. Do they look confused? Are they unusually quiet? When asked if they have any questions, do they answer with a hesitant no? These are all subtle signs that the individual is not sure of what you just said. Continue communicating until you see signs that your message has gotten through.

  • Be flexible - When communicating with others, he/she who has the most flexibility wins. If you speak to someone and you can tell by the non-verbal cues that he has no idea what you are talking about, change the way you are communicating. That is what my husband did. When he realized I did not understand his words, he began drawing pictures. Keep changing your communication style until you find the one that works with that particular individual.

  • Recognize that people understand information in different ways - People do not understand things in the same way. Some people understand things better when they see them, others when they hear them and others when they do or get a feeling about them. Several years ago, a life insurance salesman came in to meet with Tammi, one of my employees, to discuss insurance needs. He started to describe different insurance options and as he was doing so, Tammi's eyes started to glaze over. I could tell that she had no clue what the salesman was saying. (He obviously wasn't very good with non-verbal cues.) I told him that Tammi understands things better when they are written down. He replied that he would write things down later on in his presentation. (I guess flexibility wasn't his strong point either.)

    When he finally began to write things down, it was as if a light bulb had gone off in Tammi's brain. Her eyes cleared up, she shook her head up and down at key point and it was obvious by her non-verbal feedback that she was beginning to understand the salesman's presentation. Use non-verbal cues to determine if the person understands you. If not, try showing her what you mean or getting her emotionally involved in what you are saying.

  • Don't Make People Wrong - When we communicate with others the chances are very good that we will have to change strategies along the way. Don't make people wrong because their communication style is different from yours (no what's wrong with you attitude.) If you do, you will not only have to deal with communication problems but also conflict and negative feelings. Instead recognize that each person's uniqueness adds color to the mosaic of life and do whatever you need to do to get your message across correctly.

While it isn't possible to completely eliminate communication problems, by following these steps you can minimize misunderstandings, reduce frustrations, and achieve better outcomes. As for Michael, he's learned to draw pictures for me when we talk and now I understand him just fine.

About The Author

Della Menechella is a speaker, author, and trainer who inspires people to achieve greater success from the inside out. She is a contributing author to Thriving in the Midst of Change and the author of the videotape The Twelve Commandments of Goal Setting. She can be reached at della@dellamenechella.com. Subscribe to free Peak Performance Pointers e-zine - send blank e-mail to mailto:subscribe@dellamenechella.com.


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