Probably, if I asked what is the most common mean of communication, you would answer: words. Communication is most often associated with what we say (or write, like I do here 🙂 ) But the way we use words can also be a cause of problems in communicating. Some of them, for example, do not bear one, specific definition, quite the contrary: we can use them in many contexts and at each time they will mean something different. Therefore, we should make sure that the one we are talking or writing to is aware which meaning we have in mind. I assume that when you say “pupils” you mean your students, not the parts of an eye, right? 🙂 However, it is not always so clear, so be careful!

Remaining on words, another mistake is to use them not regarding the person we are communicating with. For example, being a teacher, using complicated phrases and terms to explain a subject to your young learners. It is a grave mistake when instructing, no matter if during a class, in doctor’s clinic or anywhere else. You should be the one that adjusts to the recipients when wishing them to follow what you communicate.

Sometimes we tend to keep our utterances unnecessarily long. We focus too much on speaking, forgetting those who are hearing. The long-drawn-out pieces are the enemies of comprehending. Remember, you are not the only important participant here: communication is a two-sided process. So, the other party should be engaged as well, when it is a conversation, or at least be given a chance to follow and comprehend what you say- so keep it brief!

So far we have been describing the mistakes that the speakers commit. What about the hearers? Are they the “innocent” party here? Not at all. Although they are the recipients, they can also contribute to making communication ineffective. How? For example, though they are hearers, they do not listen, or do it carelessly. And, if they do not pay attention to what is communicated, they cannot process it and, in a result, the whole process is failed. The results of such careless listening may be various misinterpretations. We won’t get the right message if we don’t make any effort to get it.

If you want to make sure your pupils listen to what you say, and in the same time improve their comprehending during the lesson, try to work out a system. Something that will act like a sign, kind of “alert” in the classroom. For example, each time a student doesn’t understand something, he/she places a small red piece of paper in front of him/her. Then you will know you have to explain something again, maybe slower, maybe simpler. The most important thing here is that pupils need to feel safe when you want them to express that they don’t know something. So make sure there is no scolding, laughing at or shouting. It is human to be wrong, after all.

Wrong listening is not the only cause of misinterpretations. Till now we have been focusing on words, but our gestures, mimics, tone of voice and even posture do also “talk”. Therefore, our failure to read them right may result in misinterpreting. Let’s imagine a student, asked if he/she understands a subject given in a lesson. Although the answer may be “yes”, what would you think if he/she says so with confusion on the face and with uncertain tone of voice? Would you really assume that he/she understands? Exactly. So we really should pay attention to non-verbal language too.


Last thing I would like to mention here is the issue of cultural differences. Many aspects of our way of communication are ingrained in the culture we have been raised in. Sometimes we wrongly assume they are universal to everyone- and it causes communication troubles. For example, in one culture it is common to use simple messages, with no hedges, whereas in another one such simple manner would be considered impolite. So we could be interpreted as rude, although we just follow the basic rules of communication- basic only for our culture. Please, compare the below utterances:

  1. What time is it?
  2. Excuse me, sorry for bothering you, I wonder if you could tell me what time it is.

They both carry the same message- somebody wants to know the time. But they look different, don’t they? Although there is nothing wrong with the first one, in some cultures, British for example, it might seem impolite. There it would be better to go by option 2., even though you may think that it is completely unnecessary to use so many words to express something simple. Well, when in Rome do as the Romans do…

Of course, I haven’t mentioned all the possible obstacles to effective communication. But I believe those are among the most common ones. Fortunately, I hope I presented they are also not so difficult to overcome. Just keep in mind couple of rules: take into account with whom you are talking at at time and suit how you are talking to this person. Keep your utterances short. Do not always trust your assumptions- they may mislead you, try to find out what one really means. And when you are a hearer- listen! All those rules may be applied when working as a teacher, but it is worthy to follow them in every aspect of life that demands communicating with others.

If you want to know more on how to overcome communication obstacles, go here!

Let’s talk- how to avoid common communication traps?

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