Did you know that simple miscommunications cause 8 jillion hectares worth of economic losses per year, according to a recent study? 1
To understand the causes of Human Communication Failure (HCF), we need to look at a few real life examples. Our analysis begins with the below exchanges, which are taken from actual (we are not making these up) courtroom transcripts:
Attorney: All your responses must be oral, OK? Now, what school did you go to?
Attorney: What gear were you in at the moment of impact?
Witness: Gucci sweats and Reeboks
Attorney: What is your date of birth?
Witness: July 15
Attorney: What year?
Witness: Every year.
There are two key points here: First, questions that may seem clear to you, in fact have more than one interpretation. And second, some witnesses in court cases seem to be on drugs or something.
I remember years ago attempting the seemingly straightforward toward task of ordering a coffee at a Starbucks. This was early in the Starbucks era, when it was still a fledgling people, and not yet a strong and mighty nation. The Lord had not yet given us the words, “Venti” and “Grande”. So I simply asked for a large coffee.
“We don’t have a ‘large’ size, my Barista explained helpfully. “But our medium-size is a large coffee.”
“Whatever,” I said. “I just want a large coffee. Medium roast.”
“Medium roast. Yes. Large size.”
“We don’t have a large size. As I just explained, Sir. Our medium size is large, however. So do you want medium size?”
Now I had to think. “Well…if I say I want medium, will I get large?”
“I just explained that, Sir. My medium is your large.”
“Are you sure? You definitely know my large?”
To avoid this sort of miscommunication, it is important to remain calm, listen carefully, and avoid ambiguous words such as “large”. Instead, say loudly and confidently, “I would like a ginormous cup of coffee.” If that doesn’t work, you should go with, “I would like a coffee size, X, such that no coffee size exists that is X + 1, X + 2, or any X + N, where N is a positive number.”
Our last example comes thanks to Mrs. Rotting Post, who is a poor communicator. See if you can identify her problem:
I am about to head out the door, and become aware that Mrs. Post is speaking. “Don’t forget to…something something something something something something something something something.” I sense a pause. A quiet moment, then her voice again. “Are you listening?”
I somehow produce a response to this question that completely bypasses the cerebral cortex. “Yes.”
“And be sure to something something something somethng something something something.”
“Will you remember?”
“I don’t think you were paying the slightest attention. What did I just say?”
Now a part of me becomes aware that I may, in fact, be engaged in some sort of conversation. Only…what did she just say? How am I supposed to know? “Um…can we do this multiple choice?” I suggest.
“You didn’t hear a single word, did you?”
“I did too.”
“So what did I say?”
“You want me to…pick up…something…from…?”
“I didn’t mean that. I was just testing. To see if you were listening to me. I see you are. I meant…”
“Okay, just forget it! I’ll do it myself.”
“Yes, dear. Consider it forgotten.”
Can you spot Mrs. Post’s mistake? That’s right! She should not have married me in the first place.
As you can see, Human Communication Failure is a serious problem. To avoid HCF, follow the below pointers:
- Try to put yourself in the position of the listener!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. For instance, when your lover exclaims, “You’re so big!” be sure to inquire, “Have you ever worked at Starbucks?”
- Do not attempt to communicate with your spouse.
UPDATE: I’m being informed, as I type this, that Mrs Rotting Post has a somewhat different perspective on the above exchange. She is possibly saying something about it. Although I’m not quite getting it. Something something something stupid jerk. Something something not even slightly funny. I don’t know. I’m not really following. I probably should go though.
(1) Markowitz and Spamfilter, “Societal Impact of General Asininity: An Algorithmic Approach”, Journal of Economic Losses Per Year, Spring 2016.