In a 2011 publication in the U.S. News & World Report, titled “Close Relationships Sometimes Mask Poor Communication,” researchers discovered that close friends and family do not communicate with each other as easily or intuitively as they may be inclined to believe (“Close Relationship”, 2011, n.p.) In the study, they gave 24 married couples the task of deciphering ambiguous statements made by their significant other. The researchers found that the couples were no better than strangers at determining the meaning of the statements. This publication is quite significant because it undermines the communicative comfort of interpersonal relationships. There are often unhealthy assumptions made during this type of faulty communication that can lead to ambiguity. However, there are many ways to better understand and overcome these barriers to proper communication.
As people spend more time around each other, they obviously become more comfortable with each other. It would seem to make sense that as a relationship progresses, there is an increased and more streamlined capacity for communication. In the textbook Making Connections: Understanding Interpersonal Communication, an important aspect of communication that the author highlights is the behavioral cue, which is a verbal or nonverbal indicator that people use to communicate (Sole, 2011, p. 66). As a relationship grows, one would expect these behavioral cues to become increasingly detectable and apparent thereby helping to resolve interpersonal conflicts. However, this study implies that there is a lack of development in the ability of people to detect the verbal and nonverbal cues of their close friends and family.
One particular night while I was working at a pizza parlor, there was an awkward incident between a customer and me that was the result of a miscommunication. We were busier than normal and we accidentally burned a customer’s pizza. He arrived at the parlor and I had to explain to him what happened. He was understandably upset, but he handled it politely as we worked on fixing his order. While his new pizza was in the oven, I asked him if he would like a drink while he waited. He asked for a soda, but when I started walking to the cash register to accept his payment, he was taken aback and looked flustered. He said that he thought I was offering him a drink for free as consolation for the burnt pizza, but it was not my decision to offer free food. He refused the drink and seemed even more upset as a result.
To make sure that miscommunication like this does not occur in the future, it important to be clear and concise with the choice of words and the pronunciation. There is also a wide range of communication tools that go beyond word choice and pronunciation. Verbally speaking, it is possible to make use of cues like loudness or varying vocal intonation to get across a point that may not be so easily made with words alone. Also in the realm of behavioral clues is the concept of body language. Facial expressions, in addition to posture and other physical indicators, serve as a means of communicating emotion that may either agree with or dissent from the words themselves. Another potential problem with communication is making assumptions. It is important to make sure that both parties involved in the exchange are doing what is necessary to get their point across to the other. Assuming that the other party knows something that they may not actually know can lead to confusion.
This article about spousal miscommunication has provided insight into some of the inherent errors in human communication. These married couples made assumptions about their spouses and did not properly examine the behavioral cues that were made available to them. Miscommunication like this is not uncommon, but it does often lead to problems that can easily be alleviated by simply ensuring that both parties are on common ground with respect to the types of behavioral cues that are used in the exchange.
Close relationships sometimes mask poor communication. (2011, January). U.S. News & World Report, 1. doi: 2270370591
Sole, K. (2011). Making Connections: Understanding Interpersonal Communication. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
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