Communication: Understanding Misunderstandings

HandKeySmallI’ve just finished reading The Blackboard Jungle, a great novel, written in 1954 by Evan Hunter. It’s a story about a new teacher who goes to a very rough New York trade school to teach English in the 1950’s.

One of the key themes in the book is misunderstanding; especially  between the teacher and one of his students. It’s a volatile relationship and his misunderstanding of the student’s behaviour leads to a dramatic climax.

I won’t reveal what happens just in case you want to read the book, but what intrigued me were the factors that influenced the teachers attitude towards this particular student. They were;

  • His perception of the student’s behaviour
  • Control
  • Ego

I suppose one or more of the above elements occur in any misunderstanding between two people or even a facilitator and a group of people. No one is immune to misunderstandings and it can occur at anytime.

When I’m facilitating or training a group I try and do the following things after I’ve spoken:

  • Pause
  • Watch and/or listen
  • Don’t assume
  • Find out what really is going on

Of course, at times, I don’t  really know if there has been a misunderstanding until it’s either been pointed out to me or I’ve discovered the facts later. When this happens I need to take whatever action is necessary to correct the misunderstanding. It’s only then can I understand the misunderstanding and try to avoid a future occurrence.

It takes effort but effective communication always does.

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