Prevent Misunderstanding—One Simple Strategy

Ever say something you think is innocuous, like: "I thought you were coming to dinner," and see the other person react as though you had just fired a missile of criticism? After the initial shock of seeing them react, you soon find yourself sucked into a vortex of defending and explaining.

When you say something the listener typically only hears 8% of the content of your words. Facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and what's going on for the receiver fill in the rest. This leaves ample space for miscommunication, confusion, and assumptions. 

Given the complexity of communication, it’s surprising how much you can  simplify things with one simple strategy: a connecting request. A connecting request is a way of checking how your communication landed with the other person and what they understood. 

The most difficult thing about this simple strategy is remembering to ask. It’s easy to assume the other person is in a shared reality. To break this habit of assuming, choose one area of life and one relationship or context to practice making connecting requests. The areas of planning and shared decision-making might yield the most obvious beneficial results. Each time you find yourself in a planning conversation within the relationship or context you have chosen, set your intention to reflect back what you are hearing and understanding and ask the other person to do the same.

Here are a variety of ways to make a connecting request:

  • "Can you tell me what you heard me say?"

  • "I'm wondering what you're getting from what I said?"

  • "I'm not sure I was clear; could you feed that back to me?"

  • "Would you be willing to say what you understood about what I just said?"

  • "What were you hearing there?"

  • "What landed for you about what I said?"

  • “What comes up for you as you hear me say that?”

  • “Would be willing say back what you are hearing?”

  • “I’m curious how what I am sharing affects you. Would you be willing to share?”

Connecting requests are especially important when emotions are strong and the relationship is an established one. The more someone knows you, the more they think they already know what you mean. Their own ideas about you and your relationship with them get in the way of really hearing you. Build the habit of making connecting requests in more neutral interactions so that you can access this strategy in emotionally challenging situations.

Practice

Try making a connecting request at least three times this week. Choose one area of life and one relationship or context in which to practice.