There could be any number of reasons why a person misunderstands you. Most times it’s a perfectly innocent matter of miscommunication. Sometimes it’s attitudes and preconceived notions about your intent, ability or character. Either way it’s not a good feeling to be misunderstood.
If someone is predisposed to believe that you will be unclear, ill-informed or ignorant, they will ultimately relate to you on those terms initially, whether you present those characteristics or not. Unfortunately, even after all the advances in society regarding women’s roles and male/female equality; we still may have to contend with these tiresome and aggravating situations where our colleagues have negatively prejudged our possible contribution. You know that person who starts squinting their eyes and leaning forward the minute you open your mouth. Or worse yet, someone let’s you finish your little spiel and then asks, “What are you talking about?”
One key to overcoming this is to first be aware of the possibility of it occurring; then to be proactive rather than “reactive” about it. My first instinct, when I suspect that someone is relating to me in this fashion is anger. I have to deliberately deal with my own negative thoughts and propensity to retaliate. After all, I could very well be mistaken or just misreading signs. To get openly angry or thrown off kilter in any way is the last thing you want to do in the marketplace.
So let’s say, for example, someone responds to something you’ve offered during a meeting or conversation, in a way that indicates they’ve totally misunderstood you. What do you do?
Assess the situation. Is it imperative that you make yourself understood right this minute? Can you address it privately with the person later or will leaving it alone diminish your position among your colleagues and staff? There are those times when trying to explain yourself may tend to only make matters worse. If you have to make sure that you don’t leave the situation misinterpreted, then start with being calm. Resist the urge to become frustrated, or show frustration while explaining.
If you’re in a hostile environment (one where you believe someone deliberately wants you to look bad) losing your cool and getting flustered is like aiding and abetting the enemy — no matter what the issue is. Whether you’re in a hostile environment or not – you want your reputation to bring up the words – competent, confident and composed not crazy, complicated and crying.
Talk to yourself…quick. “Am I being vague or unclear?” “Have I used the wrong terminology?” “Are we on the same page?” Make sure that you’ve expressed yourself in a clear and professional manner. Make sure, before you speak, that you have the proper terms and information on the subject. Don’t try to tap dance your way through a conversation/meeting with buzz words and phrases. Get smart on the subject ahead of time so that you can make intelligent contributions to the conversation. Otherwise, listen and learn.
Repeat yourself. Give it to them in other words. Say it again. Restate in simpler words, perhaps. Be sure not to be sarcastic. Watch your body-language. Don’t let’em see you sweat.
Asks questions. “What do you think I’m trying to convey? What are you hearing? Let’s see if we’re on the same track.” Display a willingness to take time to be understood and an earnest desire to communicate clearly.
Remember now. Not every miscommunication is hostile. Don’t be afraid of questions when someone misunderstands your intended meaning. Some people process information out loud that way.
Return the favor. Take time to listen to others more carefully. Try to clear your mind of preconceived notions of what they’re going to say and give them a “clean hearing.” Check yourself for “negative filters” that may tend to set up in your mind before a person gets a chance to make their point.
In the workplace communication is the most precious tool. Learn to master all the elements of communication. Practice speaking publicly and learn to convey your ideas clearly. You can’t afford to just accent your verbal communication with “you know what I mean?” and expect to make an impact.