How to Avoid Misunderstandings

avoid misunderstandings

What do you see in the picture above? One person, let’s call him Scott, is thinking about his pending project while his friend (Tim) is telling him something. Finally, his friend asks a question which would had required Scott to pay attention before, to know what the question is related to.

At this point, Scott has three options, none of which would leave a favorable impression to Tim:
1. Admit to Tim he wasn’t paying attention and ask him to repeat. Or ask a few questions to clarify, which would also make his friend repeat what he’s just said.
2. Make up a lie and say he’s not available, even though he doesn’t really know what he is turning down or when.
3. No answer, change the subject. Awkward moment.

I’m sure you all have been on both sides of the example above. I have. Not a very comfortable position to be in, right?

In our speeding society, we seem to consider multitasking will make us faster. It won’t, or it will at the expense of quality. Human mind is not capable to multitask several processes all requiring our attention. If you know how Windows works, you know it can’t really multitask either.

We can do more things at once, if only one of them requires our attention. For instance we can talk and walk at the same time. Because walking is almost automatic and we don’t give it any thought. We can’t listen to a podcast and answer an email at the same time though. Because both processes require our attention.

It’s the same in our example above. We can’t both listen to someone and think of a different thing at once.

Let’s see if another situation is familiar to you. You are listening to someone and at some point, there’s a break and you’d like to pick up and continue with a question or a remark. The other person only listens to your first few words then interrupts you. Even if he answers, was he really listening? Did he understand what you wanted to say? Most likely not, or not completely.

And finally, we’ve all written support tickets for the products we use, right? And the support we receive can be anywhere between lamentable and extraordinary. An extraordinary support team will fix your problem promptly, and may even suggest related improvements you haven’t thought of.
A lamentable support is one that responds late, or in reasonable time but only to ask what problem are you experiencing (without reading your ticket I suppose). Optionally, they will send you from one person to another, all asking for the details you already gave. And to top it off, make it so difficult for you to get help, that you give up entirely (perhaps on the product too?).

Now, I realize support teams are usually overwhelmed, and they are only the interface with customers, not the ones making things happen. But what if they listened first, and listen with the intent to understand, and only then answer or send it to the appropriate person to handle it and answer when it’s fixed. Wouldn’t that skip a few steps and leave the customer happy at the same time?

If you want to know more about listening with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply, I would highly recommend you Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habbits of Highly Effective People. This is an evergreen book, and not one that you would normally read in a day or week-end.

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About Adrian
Creator of, I enjoy working from home and having a flexible schedule. My mission: to grow myself, then teach and help others to step up and inspire them to offer help at their turn.

6 Comments on How to Avoid Misunderstandings

  1. Hi Adrian,
    I have been in the situation you have described, I’m sure nearly everyone has. I Have a yellowing page paperback copy of the “7 Habits”; I must admit I haven’t used it in awhile.
    So no pat book answer!
    What I do is, once the person interrupts, I Listen and let them finish. If it is a valid point I will respond. If the point is not valid i may say yes, and the I have A serious point to make; I know you will want to respond, but please wait until I have competed my point. Thank you and continue with my idea. It is not easy to pull off,
    It takes patience and practice. I used to jump right back when interrupted. That never works good!
    Gary K Waters recently posted…Welcome to my Blog

  2. Thanks Gary, very useful your advice. As you mentioned it, when we are young we’re probably more impulsive and react a lot. With age and experience we learn to be patient and, ideally, to listen well.
    Adrian Gurgui recently posted…Shared Hosting Adventures

  3. Bob Swetz // October 20, 2016 at 1:50 pm //

    Adrian, this is excellent and I agree with Gary. We all find ourselves in this situation and I’m sure I’m guilty of not paying attention to the other person when I should be. It’s about thinking what you want to say next instead of listening to the other person fully. Listening intently is definitely an essential skill we should strive to master in all our relationships.
    Bob Swetz recently posted…Make Sure to Enjoy Some of Your Profits

  4. Thanks Bob, yes we do, which means we are more self-absorbed than we should be. We believe our problems are more important than others. And they are, to us.

    Let’s imagine another scenario. Our child or grandchild comes to us with a silly problem and we say “Go to your mother, I’m busy!”. Imagine how he’s feeling. He will be reluctant to ask any more questions in the future, especially to you.

    As adults, if we constantly ignore what other people are saying, we will eventually estrange everyone. Who would want to talk to a wall?
    Adrian Gurgui recently posted…Be Hungry!

  5. Cheryl fitzjohn // February 4, 2017 at 9:21 pm //

    wish i could understand more but I kind of get angry when some says in private message that could help then they completely quit talking to me. not that what your talking about but the first statement sure did remind me of it. so whatever who cares. anymore.

  6. Hi Cheryl, thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s nothing worse than someone who wants to learn more and gets a promise for help and then no response. That’s not a reason for you to stop caring, if you want to learn something you’ll find a way or someone to teach you.

    If it’s related to Adrian’s Hub and you need help, contact me and although we are not on the same timezone and I’m not always available, I’ll get answers to your questions.
    Adrian Gurgui recently posted…Never Quit

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