The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

— George Bernard Shaw

You are great at making your point.

You are clear and concise.

You say exactly what needs to be said.

In fact, you are so good at communicating that the only way someone could misunderstand you is if they aren’t paying attention.



If you ever assumed that you were making an obvious point, chances are you left lots of room for misinterpretation. 

If you’ve ever answered a question and been greeted with a blank stare, you might be annoying your loved ones, friends, colleagues and total strangers, by mistaking them for mind-readers. 

Don’t panic.

It’s a common problem and we’re all guilty of it occasionally. But nip this in the bud now so you can stop frustrating people and start astounding them with your new crystal clear, ninja-like communication skills. 

There are two major factors at work:
•    When someone doesn’t understand you, they usually don’t tell you.
•    Everyone communicates through the filter of their personality.

Factor #1 – When Someone Misunderstands You, They Don’t Tell You

You’re in the middle of a great conversation with someone you really like and admire. You want to impress him. He casually refers to something you’ve never heard of. It sounded like he mentioned a place called “Monkeyton” but that makes NO sense whatsoever. It could have been the name of a band. Was it a Mediterranean food? 

You could ask what he meant, but you’ve already been nodding and smiling for the last 60 seconds while your brain frantically tried to figure out what the hell he just said. You’d look like an idiot if you asked now.

Sound familiar?

This scenario happens countless times. 

When people misunderstand what they’ve heard, they rarely will admit it for fear of looking foolish. 

Factor #2 – Your Personal Personality Communication Filter

Your personality will determine how you hear other people and how you speak to them. Here are some examples of miscommunication broken down by personality type.

The personality types you will see below are described in terms of the element of nature that their personality most closely resembles – Earth, Air, Water or Fire. In my personality system that I use with my coaching clients, I call this their Strongest Element. (Click here to take the Quiz and find out which is YOUR Strongest Element.)

The Earth Element

Earth Element personalities are drawn to order, structure and tradition. They are highly dependable, responsible, and reliable. They respect authority. They love crossing off their to-do lists. They are parental. On a bad day, they can be stubborn martyrs. But like the Earth, they are solid and stable.

What They Say:
“I have a million things to do today. It is impossible for me to get any of this done.”

What Others Hear:
“There are literally too many things for me to do and I will not complete these tasks.”

What They Really Mean and Should Say Instead:
“Of course I will get all of this done because I always do, but I want you to appreciate everything I’m doing.”
“Notice how overwhelmed I’m feeling right now and tell me you have confidence in my abilities.”

The Water Element

These people are sympathetic, caring listeners. You feel comfortable confiding in them instantly. They focus on developing potential – in themselves and in others. They are romantic, compassionate and empathetic. On a bad day they are fickle drama queens. But like an ocean wave on a summer day, they are warm and nurturing.

What They Say:
“I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings.”

What Others Hear:
“I am afraid of conflict.”

What They Really Mean and Should Say Instead:
“Kindness is as important to me as honesty.”
“It is torturous for me to inflict emotional pain on others. Please don’t make me.”

The Air Element

Air Elements are open-minded, logical, rational people. They consider all sides of a situation before making decisions. They research. They are experts in whatever they are passionate about. They explore big ideas. They are intellectual and academic by nature and comfortable with complexity. On a bad day they can be sarcastic perfectionists. But like a wide-open sky, they are all about possibilities.

What They Say:
“I can’t discuss this with you right now.”

What Others Hear:
“I don’t want to talk to you because I am a heartless, soulless human being.”

What They Really Mean and Should Say Instead:
“There is no way my pragmatism is going to satisfy your passion for this topic, so let’s not start a conversation that will just upset us both.”
“You have interrupted me while I am working and will now be given the silent treatment.”

The Fire Element

Fire Element personalities are always in motion. They are energetic go-getters. Of all personality types, Fire Elements are the most comfortable with change. They are determined, resourceful and able to rebuild easily. Naturally optimistic and charismatic, they are often the life of the party. On a bad day they can be competitive and self-destructive, but like a roaring bonfire, they are magnetic and dynamic.

What They Say:
“I will give you a call.”

What Others Hear:
“I will give you a call ASAP.”

What They Really Mean and Should Say Instead:
“I like you, but I am so busy that there is no way I will call you.”

The Solution

Regardless of the situation, there is an easy fix that will help you every time. 

If you there is any possibility that you’ve misunderstood, CHECK. It’s better to feel silly for a minute than to risk ruining relationships. 

And let me know if you ever get those directions to Monkeyton.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me about a time when you were misunderstood. What did you say and how was it misinterpreted? Did you resolve it? Let me know in the comments.

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