Communicating: why sometimes is it so tricky?
How many times have you found yourself asking: “Why is my boyfriend not getting that?” or “I said X and she understood Y. I don’t understand… I thought it was clear!”
Communication is a fundamental component of our social interactions; but no matter how important it is, it can be a source of misunderstandings and conflicts.
The art of communication may seem so easy to learn but it can easily get tricky, especially when the content of the message implies feelings, emotions, fears and expectations about relationships. When emotions and delicate issues are involved, it is very easy to communicate in a not-so-efficient way and at the same time to misinterpret what the other person is telling us.
Why does this happen?
First of all it is important to distinguish between two elements of communication that are always involved in each piece of information we share: non-verbal and verbal communication.
Verbal communication refers to the content of the message that is shared through language while non-verbal communication refers to the information delivered through our body (e.g. the distance from our interlocutor, our body language, etc.) and our paralinguistic (e.g. the tone of our voice, volume, speed, etc.).
Verbal and non-verbal communication aren't always on the same page: many times the two elements are discordant.
I guess that being mad at someone but not wanting to share it with that person happens to everyone; it is very likely that even if the content of our communication was not “aggressive”, our body and our tone of voice were signalling this anger and the other person very likely recognised it.
Scientists showed indeed that the majority of the information is delivered through non-verbal signals and only a very small percentage through verbal ones. This means that when we interpret a message we give much more importance to how the person is delivering it then to the effective verbal content.
Furthermore, communicating emotion-related information in an ambiguous and vague way (e.g. omitting information) may represent another source of misunderstandings. In front of a vague but important communication or when a potential threat is perceived, it is very easy to interpret the message applying our own personal meanings and symbols, especially when we experience intense emotional states. This means that we may apply our own interpretations based on our personal history, on our deepest fears or on our personal beliefs. In these instances the risk of misinterpreting or distorting information is right behind the corner, as well as the risk of consequently behaving in a defensive way, either attacking the interlocutor or maybe leaving the conversation. In each case these reactions worsen the communication process.
Very often many problems in relationships and in couples are triggered by distortions in communication (expressing information or either interpreting it) and in many cases just a few expedients could help preventing misunderstandings.
Either you feel like having often troubles expressing yourself or interpreting what your partner is telling you, don’t worry because communication is an art that can be learnt and improved.
Psychotherapy can help you with this issue, making you learn and experience an assertive style of communication, recognise what are the automatic personal interpretations that you tend to apply and learn how to better manage them.
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About Ilaria Tedeschi
Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, BACP registered, working in Marylebone with adult and adolescent clients experiencing depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational issues.