Differing Perceptions in communication

The difference between effective and ineffective communication can be traced to how well the communicating parties deal with four aspects of the communications process: perception differences, emotions, inconsistencies between verbal and nonverbal communications, and prior trust (or distrust) between the parties.

Differing perceptions:

This is one of the most common communications barriers. People who have different backgrounds of knowledge and experience often perceive the same phenomenon from different perspectives. Suppose that a new supervisor compliments an assembly line worker for his or her efficiency and high-quality work. The supervisor genuinely appreciates the worker’s efforts and at the same time wants to encourage the other employees to emulate his or her example. Others on the assembly line, however, may regard the workers being singled out for praise as a sign that he or she has been “buttering up the boss.” They may react by teasing or being openly hostile. Individual perception of the same communication thus differ radically.

Language differences are often closely related to differences in individual perceptions. For a message to be properly communicated, the words used must mean the same thing to sender and receiver. Suppose that different departments of a company receive a memo stating that a new product is to be developed in ‘a short time’. To people in research and development, “a short time”, might mean two or three years. To people in the finance department “a short time” might be three to six months, whereas the sales department might think of “a short time” as a few weeks. Since many different meanings can be assigned to some words (the 500 most common English words have an average of 28 definitions each). Great care must be taken that the receiver gets the message the sender intended.

Perceptual differences can arise due to gender differences. The communications differences and styles between genders has been the topic of much recent research. In the last decade research has shown that women and men in our culture use distinctive styles of speech and tend to play different roles when speaking to each other. These differences can lead to miscommunication and conflict. For instance, Linguist Robin Lakoff of the University of California has noted that women who speak directly and assertively may be ostracized as “unfeminine” by both men and women. On the other hand, women who adopt a more “traditional” women’s style and role that is, expressing their thoughts more tentatively and working harder to get someone’s attention may be dismissed as someone of dim intelligence or not to be taken seriously. Gender communication as well as cross-cultural communications will continue to be important areas of organizational understanding.

Overcoming Differing perceptions:

To overcome differing perceptions and languages, the message should be explained so that it can be understood by receivers with different views and experiences. Whenever possible, we should learn about the background of those with whom we will be communicating. Empathizing – seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view – and delaying reactions until the relevant information is weighted will help to reduce ambiguity. When the subject is unclear, asking questions is critical.

To overcome language differences, it is particularly helpful to ask the receiver to confirm or restate the main of the message. When all members of an organization or group are going to be dealing with a new terminology, it may be worthwhile to develop a training course of instruction to acquaint tem with the new topic. Receivers can be encouraged to ask questions and to seek clarification of points that are unclear.