Assumptions, Misunderstanding & Mixed Messages

Ever sent a mixed message to someone? Received one? Ever made an assumption? Ever had a misunderstanding? If you answered no to any of these you are living in denial. Everyone from time to time or frequently is guilty of sending confusing and often contradictory messages causing any number of communication breakdowns that can lead to stress, frustration, anxiety, doubt, guilt and even anger.

Let's define each of these briefly before I dig into the details.

Assumption – something that is believed to be true without proof. A theory, guess, conjecture or hypothesis or supposition.

Mixed message – a confusing difference between the way somebody behaves and what somebody says.

Misunderstanding – a failure to understand or interpret something correctly caused by misinterpretation, misreading or delusion.

Mixed message(s). Let's start with mixed messages as in most cases these are the cause of most assumptions and misunderstanding. You would be amazed at how frequently we all send mixed messages to others that are caused by the contradiction between our stated intent and our real intent. What's the difference? Stated intent is what you tell yourself or others that you are going to do, try and do or do your best to accomplish. For example – I will call you tomorrow. Let's do lunch next week. The check is in the mail. I'll get back to you with a decision next week. I plan to start exercising every day. Etc.

Real intent is what actually takes place or the results you achieve. For example you actually start exercising or set up a specific lunch date.

When there is an inconsistency between the outcomes of a person's stated intent and their real intent – their real intent was not to act or accomplish etc.

When you tell another person anything regarding what you will do you have to have integrity between what you say you are going to do and what you actually do. When this is lacking you will certainly set up a situation where assumptions will be made and misunderstanding will occur.

Mixed message is nothing more than a contradiction between what you mean and what you say or do. So why do people intentionally or unintentionally send these confusing messages? Lot's of reasons – manipulation, to avoid truth, they lack the courage to be honest, an unwillingness to be authentic or vulnerable, feelings of insecurity, the desire to avoid conflict or confrontation, uncertainty as to how another person will respond or react, fear of reprisal, criticism or retribution or hidden agendas that they want to keep hidden. I could go on, but I'm sure you see that there are many contributors to these often innocent mixed messages. I say often, but there are also times when these messages can cause a great deal of pain, guilt, blame, anger, jealousy, suffering, stress and even betrayal. None of which will contribute to positive or productive relationships with family, customers, fellow employees or even friends.

Assumption(s). Assumptions are those mental outcomes a person comes to when they lack adequate or accurate information. An assumption can be anything from a simple – someone will be on time to more dramatic – he or she doesn't love me anymore or I am doing a great job in my position since I don't get any negative feedback from my boss. Or even worse that a customer is happy just because they don't bother to complain.

Why do we make assumptions? For starters we don't like uncertainty. We would rather create a story in our own mind, no matter how false, about what is happening or might happen than have this emptiness inside of our mind. Often these inner stories have nothing to do with what is really going on but with time we begin to convince ourselves that even though it's just that – a story we have created or made up – that it's true. Another reason is that we lack the ability or courage to just ask others for their reality. Keep in mind that each of us has our own specific reality based on a number of factors. No two people share exactly the same reality even if they have been married for fifty years. Still another reason is our unwillingness to manage the fear that fills everyone's mind and takes its toll in a variety of ways. These fears are our way of trying to make sense of what we don't know. We allow them to rule our inner thoughts and therefore our actions regardless of whether they are true or not. They are just stories we tell ourselves to try and have some degree of control of our uncertainty.

What are the consequences of making assumptions? Too numerous to discuss but let me share just a few of the common ones. Increased conflict with others, lowered self-esteem, disappointment in an outcome, the inability to let go of the stories we have create and their impact on other situations. And finally – increased stress due to the frustration of a perceived lack of control. Not worth the price folks.

Misunderstanding(s). A misunderstanding is nothing more than our projection of what we want to hear, believe is true or in some way, agrees with our personal beliefs, opinions, values or mindsets. All misunderstanding is caused by our inner perceptual filter that causes us to avoid what we don't accept, believe or agree with. We want to hear X and the other person tells us their X and we interpret it as Y. Misunderstanding is one of the most common communication issues in all relationships. She said, he heard, he responded, she reacted etc. He believes so he says, she wants to hear something else so doesn't hear what he says but what she thinks he said or wanted to believe he said.

For example. The employee says he will get the project done by Friday. The boss wants it done by today. So he interprets Friday to mean the other person as saying as soon as I can or today. When today ends and the project isn't complete – well you get the picture.

Assumptions, mixed messages and misunderstanding can all be avoided if we will just take the time to listen objectively and openly, stay in the present moment and not the past or future and be willing to ask enough of the right questions that help us ensure we are on the same page.

Make it a tremendous year,
In His service,
Tim ##

1 thought on “Assumptions, Misunderstanding & Mixed Messages”

  1. I have a friend who is a organizational leadership consultant.  I took one of his classes and the first thing he teaches is “Communication is Impossible.”  In other words, at best, we can achieve 99% communication but never 100% and your examples above prove this.  A good thing to keep in mind!

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