The High Cost of Miscommunication



5 red phone booths.jpg

“Ka-buck, ka-buck, ka-buck…”, our car complained and lurched as my husband tried to accelerate and couldn’t.  “Hey, I’ve got my foot to the floor on the accelerator and it won’t speed up!”, he exclaimed.  “Maybe it’s just cold.  It’s freezing out here.”, I replied, offering my “vast” mechanical expertise.  The next day my husband brought the car into Goodyear and left it with real experts for analysis.  The verdict—two sensors weren’t communicating properly with each other, causing the engine light to go on and the automatic gear shift and accelerator to malfunction.   In order to fix the problem, they would have to replace the two errant, miscommunicating, sensors with new ones that would send and receive each other’s messages in an accurate and timely manner.  Cost to us to get our car functioning properly again-- $500.

We paid it.  We need our car.  I’d prefer a much-less-expensive inspiration for a blog post!  But the sensor analogy serves us well.

How do our “sensors” sabotage communication?  On the sending end, we may:  Shriek out harsh, angry, signals that scare the receiver away; Emit garbled and unclear messages that are difficult to interpret accurately; Produce offensive sounds that cause the receiver to shut us out; Drone incessantly to the point where the receiver misses the relevant information because they’ve tuned out; Be rendered incapable of sending any messages due to breakage; Refuse to send messages, considering it a waste of time and effort. 

On the receiving end, we may:  Retreat out of range to protect ourselves from a perceived threat; Misinterpret the message, either because it wasn’t clearly communicated or because of faulty “wiring” (thinking) in our sensor; Deliberately shut out anything we consider offensive; Passively tune out due to lack of interest; Be unable to hear the message due to louder sounds drowning it out; Turn off our receptor, considering receptivity a waste of time and effort.

Either way, communication hasn’t really taken place.  Talking has, at various levels of volume.  Hearing has, in the sense of sound waves entering the ear canal.  But real communication requires transmitted messages to be received, understood, and remembered.  Otherwise, it’s just “in one ear and out the other”, as my sweet mother-in-love often jokes about the way her kids “paid attention” to her when they were growing up!

As with vehicles, lack of true communication causes breakdowns and costs a lot to repair.  Relationships and life together don’t run smoothly anymore.  People who continually misunderstand, or don’t listen or talk to each other, eventually give up.  It takes too much effort for too little reward to maintain the friendship, the marriage, the parent-child or sibling relationship, the effective team cooperation at work, etc.

How can we reverse the downward spiral and repair these relationships?  How can we get our “sensors” to transmit and receive messages clearly and accurately to enable relationships to hum happily along and move forward again?

For now, so as not to overload your reading sensors with too much information at once, I’ll just list the diagnostic, repair and maintenance tools to use.  My (Julie) next post will unpack each of these points):

First, begin with mutual respect. Second, engage in active listening. Third, check and see if any prejudice filters exist that could distort our interpretation.  Fourth, don’t project someone from our past onto the person we’re with now.  Fifth, make our messages as clear and undistorted as possible.  Sixth, when receiving a message, ask clarification questions if you’re not sure what the sender meant.  Seventh, be gentle and approachable.

Finally, recognize that we often get it wrong when it comes to communication, both sending and receiving.  Acknowledge when that happens and apologize for any distress caused by that. We need feel no shame in admitting our responsibility for a broken connection.  (James 5:16)

Yes, repairing damaged relationships due to communication breakdowns can cost a huge amount of time and effort, but it sure beats losing them.  Like repairing our car beats having to buy a new one.  If our vehicles matter this much to us, how much more should our relationships, which are worth too much to forfeit! (Prov. 17:17)