The Greatest 15 Myths of Communication
Lies, deception, misunderstandings, distortions, and deceit is easier to accept than the truth. We are creatures of denial. Ignorance has a cushioning effect to soften the harshness of reality.
You can ignore the truth because it is uncomfortable to face, but other times you accept myths over truth because you know no difference. A relationship expert, counselor, psychologist, or even a communication trainer may have mislead you to believe a communication myth is truth. It is time to shake up your communication beliefs and shock your reality, allowing you to more effectively communicate.
Getting rid of a delusion makes us wiser than getting hold of a truth.Karl Ludwig Borne (1786-1837)
Myth is an attempt to narrate a whole human experience, of which the purpose is too deep, going too deep in the blood and soul, for mental explanation or description.David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930), English writer who often criticized modern living’s negative influence on humans
Few people have the imagination for reality.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), famous German writer
Originally I struggled to write 10 myths, but after brainstorming, researching, observing people communicate, coaching people on their communication skills, asking tens of thousands of subscribers on communication myths, and picking out myths from my buried notes, 15 myths fitted surprisingly snug. These myths need to be revealed, cleared, and truth be told so we are better empowered to improve our personalities and relationships.
The greatest myths of communication are arranged in order depending on their frequency and strength in people’s minds. From lies, illusions, flawed teachings, and misunderstandings, it is time to debunk the top 15 all-time myths of communication:
#15 Myth: Logic makes communication effective
Logic destroys relationships. The next time you see two people in an argument, watch them focus on the logical level. Each person will give facts the other does not care about. The content and logical focus of a conversation has been the demise of many relationships.
The Heath brothers in Made to Stick reveals why people remember ideas and not others. They say we focus too much on bland words and facts. Emotions get overlooked. Intelligence, reasoning, and rationality are fine. Problems arise when logic gets center of attention in a conversion – especially during conflict. The emotional content of conflict needs to be handled first before facts can surface.
Humans are predictably irrational.
Stop focusing on the content of conversations. Look beyond the words to see emotion. Start caring about people’s emotions beneath their content of a conversation because relationships are fueled by emotion.
Even in business communications you need to focus on emotion. We want others to understand how we feel instead of pointing out the facts or telling us how to feel. When you understand humans are creatures of emotion, and that we are predictably irrational, you enable yourself to have great charisma and persuasive power. (I recommend you read chapter 10 of my communication secrets program for full details on how to overcome this logical dilemma to communicate at an emotional level so you powerfully connect with people.)
#14 Myth: Effective communication is about the blunt truth
This myth will be interpreted in a way different than how I intend. A person who always tells the blunt truth is disliked by those who always get told the truth. Truth-tellers use the excuse of, “I tell it how it is” and “If people can’t deal with reality, it’s their problem.” They may even see their need to tell the truth as a virtue.
The truth we tell others often manifests itself into criticism that gets thrown back into our faces with defensiveness or arguments. Truth is hurtful when delivered in the absence of empathy. Productive communication is inhibited when people are too busy defending themselves from personal attacks.
I am not advocating you lie or give people enormous amounts of praise when they sucked at something or to live a deceptive life. Lies are unnecessary when you deliver the facts with compassion. You need compassion in a tell-it-like-it-is attitude.
Truth is not a virtue without compassion. “Our tendency is to choose up sides, valuing certain emotional skills while neglecting and even disparaging others,” write Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement. “Take a moment to consider how broad a range of emotional muscles you have in your own life. In all likelihood you will discover that you have considerable more strength on one side of the spectrum than on the other. Notice, too, the judgment that you bring to the relative merits of opposing qualities.”
Loehr and Schwartz go on to write that “no emotional capacity better serves depth and richness more than the willingness to value feelings that seem contradictory and not to choose up sides between them.” Have you been limiting your array of emotional skills by valuing the blunt truth over compassion?
#13 Myth: Communication solves everything
As someone who teaches communication skills, this myth is something I would like to believe! Unfortunately, communication does not solve all conflict and relationship problems. Sometimes the greatest charismatically persuasive communication cannot solve relationship issues.
Marina Benjamen, Ph.D. of Psych Central sees a frequent scenario in couples counseling. Couples have no “serious problem”. Both partners can vouch for no drinking, abuse, or infidelity. The problem? They do not communicate. A lack of communication can happen for many reasons, but by itself it rarely leads to relationship resolutions. “Good communication exposes conflict that when effectively dealt with,” says Benjamen, “can promote a more open and intimate connection.”
I notice a transition in people who adopt this myth that communication solving everything. The general public are vaguely advised that “communication is important in relationships”. Few people like yourself who go one step further by learning conflict management, emotional mastery, and self awareness, come to realize how communication is greatly beneficial. The more we learn and develop ourselves, the more emphasis we place on communication. Eventually, we come to believe any argument, relationship break up, or person who does not like us comes from poor communication.
Think of a worldly issue, like abortion or the death penalty, that you have a strong stance on. Do you think someone with opposing views who communicates well would change your mind? If you really believe in your stance on the issue, then communication is not going to change your mind. You and I have religious, political, and personal values that prevent communication solving everything.
Communication is the relationship, a shared connection between two points. Communication forms the bridge in a relationship so it makes sense to assume the problems coming and going must exist on the bridge. If either side has a serious enough foundational problem, however, the strongest bridge is not going to last.
Communication forms the bridge in a relationship… However, if either side has a serious enough foundational problem, the strongest bridge is not going to last.
People ask, “What things can I say and do to make people like me?” This is the wrong type of thinking! Most effective communication is doomed before you even open your mouth. Becoming charismatic and persuasive starts from within you. Changing people’s behavior starts within you. And having intimate, sharing, and loving relationships starts within you. Change your life by changing your thinking. Good relationships happen with self development, not only through good communication.
I steer my focus away from telling people to say rehashed lines in certain situations because no magical line can effectively work when you are incongruent with your words. You can say one brilliant communication line, but how you feel and think is a greater influence on the outcome. My Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program is not about rehashed lines. It gets you deeply understanding yourself and other people so you can begin communicating more intimately, powerfully, persuasively, and charismatically.
#12 Myth: Learning communication makes you a better communicator
We are at a global health crisis. Doctors have repeatedly said that the large percentage of health problems in Western countries comes from choices controllable by those who suffer such health ailments. We are in control of drinking, eating, smoking, stressing, and exercising. The global health crisis is not occurring because we fail to learn the implications of poor eating and excessive drinking. Westerners and most Easterners understand this. The problem comes from our inability to change (further proof that logic is weak.)
Reading about a health problem does not automatically make you healthier. We know how to lose weight: you consume less energy than you put out. The majority of us have health problems within our control, which we logically understand, yet continue to ignore.
Learning communication makes you a better communicator when the lessons lead to behavioral change. Even failing at a new skill makes you a better communicator because you went out and did something. Stop trying to intellectualize everything and just give it a go. You will become a better communicator when you do it. (I recommend you read Alan Deutschman’s Change or Die for more information about this topic.)
#11 Myth: Communication is one-way
Radios, televisions, and many electrical devices in the home communicate one-way messages. It seems our relationships are often the same. At times it appears we communicate in a monologue. There is still two-way communication – just poor two-way communication. We cannot not communicate.
Communication in human relationships is two-way. Even one-way communication like public speaking is two-way. We have eyes and ears that absorb people’s communication as listening or a lack of listening communicates a message. You can listen and not say a word to communicate. Whether you choose to do something with this gathered information to improve your relationships, increase your charisma, or boost your persuasion is up to you. It is up to you if you choose to empathize, laugh at, pay attention to, or ignore another person’s communication, yet two-way communication will always exist. Several other myths, as you will soon discover, tie into this myth.
#10 Myth: Intellectual intelligence equates to good communication
Emotionally intelligent people are often good communicators, but they are not necessarily intellectually smart. Daniel Goleman in his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ says, “IQ and emotional intelligence are not opposing competencies, but rather separate ones.” A person with a high IQ does not automatically get high emotional intelligence and good communication skills. Someone with a low IQ can have equally good communication skills as someone with a high IQ.
The seemingly incompetent that we dub as dumb can be smart communicators.
In one of my popular articles “Why Smart People Have Poor Communication Skills”, I say that smart people do not necessarily have poor communication skills. However, smart people tend to have predictable communication flaws from certain habits, traits, and thoughts. A few of these problems include the: need to criticize, tendency to find faults, use of complex words, and need to prove intellectual intelligence by showing off one’s knowledge.
Amazingly, some of the most empathic, caring, understanding, attentively good conversationalists I have met were in mental institutions. They were not psychologists, therapists, or receptionists, but were patients these professionals looked after. People labeled them as “stupid”, but they were good communicators. The seemingly incompetent we dub as dumb can be smart communicators.
#9 Myth: The message sent is the message received
This myth may hurt your relationships every day. Thinking the message you send is the message people receive makes you vulnerable to fighting with people important to you. There’s one word that explains this ugly problem: interpretation.
How we interpret a person’s message depends on many human characteristics like memory, beliefs, and values. Your mother sees your child hurt his knee so she tells you, “You need to look after your kids.” Though your mother was expressing a concern for any child’s safety, you become offended because you interpret it as, “I’m failing to look after my kids.” As another example, a guy playfully tells a girl who looks at him, “Hey, stop checking me out.” The girl may interpret the guy’s message as, “He’s confident, playful, and challenging” while an onlooker may interpret the guy’s message as rudeness.
The next time you talk to someone, stop assuming the message you send is the message someone receives. Improve your communication skills by being conscious that people will interpret your message differently than how you intend it to be understood. Ask a person for their understanding ensures the two of you share an accurate understanding. Additionally, you can tell people your understanding of what they say to get clarity and logical harmony.
#8 Myth: Adapting to people is necessary for good communication
Change to the moment can be good. Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power teaches “formlessness”. He advises people to adapt to other’s individuality and rely less on past experiences to interact with the present. What skill you have successfully used on someone will not necessarily work on someone else. Adaptability is the key to surviving and thriving. I back Robert Greene’s 48th law and teach such things myself.
Adaption is important for healthy relationships. A failure to adjust your mood to a person’s mood can result in severe conflict. NLP practitioners advise people to build rapport with someone by mirroring their body language. Fine-tuning your body language and words to a person’s emotional needs boosts your social performance. However, adaptability can be beneficial and harmful to your communication.
When you overlook your own needs or feelings to adapt to social situations, a trade-off often takes place. People who make good impressions, while overlooking their own needs or feelings, suffer from poor, unstable relationships. Emotional suppression and ignorance is dangerous.
The everyday social implication of adaptability is a superficial attitude. Dr. Brian Spitzberg, a professor at the School of Communication in San Diego State University and co-editor of The Dark Side of Close Relationships, says the myth of adaptability hurts your communication skills. “If everyone is adapting to everyone else’s adaptations,” says Dr. Spitzberg, “people become chameleons in a paisley room, disabled by the shifting pattern of their social context. Adaptable people can come across like a chameleon as they change their ‘face’ for each person with whom they interact.”
#7 Myth: Communicating a hidden problem worsens the problem
Ah, the dreaded fear of talking about a tough issue. Fear’s purpose is to protect us from danger, but it too often stops us from intimacy and happiness. The excuse of “communicating a hidden problem worsens the problem” is an excuse to avoid the uncomfortable. We fabricate reasons to procrastinate on important conversations that will change our life.
We fabricate reasons to procrastinate on important conversations that will change our life.
Anyone who has regrettably divorced will tell you their disappointment in how their ignorance to one or two minor issues for years ultimately destroyed the relationship. You waste time, energy, money, and emotion in delaying a difficult conversation in fear it will worsen a problem. Susan Scott in her bestselling Fierce Conversations encourages us to “come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.” “Being real is not the risk,” says Scott. “The real risk is that: I will be known, I will be seen, and I will be changed.” (Susan’s book provides techniques for difficult conversations while my Big Talk book covers the mindset of tough conversations. I recommend you get my Big Talk program to help you understand and face the fear and psychological torment of issues difficult to talk about.)
#6 Myth: You cannot communicate
Another common communication misconception, and a reason nonverbal communication is powerful, is you cannot not communicate. In other words, it is impossible to avoid communicating. You can try all you want to ignore someone, but you still communicate.
People think that ignoring someone avoids communication with the person. If you choose to completely ignore someone, you communicate ignorance to that person through your body language and unwillingness to talk. Shy individuals who avoid conversations then remain alone, communicate disinterest in people and a lack of self-love.
By telling someone “I’m not talking to you”, you already have lied because your body language will communicate a message to the person that you are ignorant. Additionally, your silence could communicate that you are a stubborn person. When someone gives you the “silent treatment,” do you interpret the messages they communicate to you? Yes! Perhaps they communicate stubbornness, ignorance, rudeness, or cruelty through avoidance. It is impossible to avoid communication.
#5 Myth: Meaning is in words
Semantics is the study of meaning in language. It explains how two individuals searching Google for “hot looking person” want different results. One person wants information on an attractive person while the other person wants information on global warming. Google invests billions of dollars into semantics for its search engine algorithms to determine whether 12-year-old Johnny searching “hot looking person” wants good-looking people or information for his geography assignment. The implications of good semantics is huge. Without good semantics, search engines die like our relationships.
While meaning can be in words, a word is only a medium for understanding to travel, much like air is a medium for sound to travel. “Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap,” said George Bernard Shaw.
A black car may bring prestige, wealth, power, and speed into your mind’s eye. You have seen many wealthy people drive black cars. Someone else sees the same black limousine carrying their mother’s casket to her burial ground then feels sick and sad.
You don’t react to a person’s words; you react to your meaning of a person’s words.
Words are representations of images, symbols, and events; they do not solely give messages their meaning. The attachments we have to what we say and hear gives communication most of its meaning. You do not react to a person’s words; you react to your meaning of a person’s words. Someone calling you “a loser with no life” will not affect you when you give those words a meaning of, “he’s just angry” or “if he was aware of personal growth he wouldn’t call me names – whatever he calls me, doesn’t affect me”. Understanding this myth and using its truth in your life will take your communication and personality to a whole new level.
#4 Myth: Speaking talent is important for effective communication
Speaking with a good vocabulary, clarity, directness, and structure does not equal effective communication. Light travels through air like communication travels through speaking skills. Just because the path of flow is clear and smooth does not mean the destination or source is desirable.
Most business communications seem determined to convert this myth into truth. Presentations, mission statements, and team leadership work around the principles of clarity, directness, and good vocabulary. What an awful way of communicating! It makes employees hate work and discourages customers from buying the company’s products or services.
Each year, Chip Heath, co-author of Made to Stick, gets his Stanford University students to persuade fellow class members that nonviolent crime is a major issue in the United States. Heath describes a major problem the students have giving the presentations: the students are intelligent and present their ideas with good speaking skills.
Each student is given one-minute to present their persuasive speech while the other students rate his or her speech’s effectiveness. The highest-rated students present statistics with poise, smoothness, and charisma – the typical understanding of effective communication in business. A few minutes following the presentations, Heath gets the students to remember any concept from any of the presentations. “When students are asked to recall the speeches, 64 percent remember the stories,” says Heath. “Only 5 percent remember any individual statistic… almost no correlation emerges between ‘speaking talent’ and the ability to make ideas stick.” The foreign students with poor English speaking abilities are equally persuasive as native students.
Businesses are made of individuals. A business is one entity that only represents the individuals within. Lose the idea that you need to “strive to become a leader in the industry while maintaining a key focus on adhering to superior customer service”. Reading such statements make me puke! Whether you are inspiring a team or selling your idea to a CEO, you do not persuade on statistics, structure, and effective speaking skills. People are persuaded from stories, emotion, analogies, self-interest, and a little bit of logic. Speaking talent is not as important as you think it is for effective communication.
#3 Myth: More communication is better
More money is better. More power is better. More friends is better. Thinking that more of something good can be a problem. Give a poor man millions of dollars, a business, a great network of friends, and he may lose it all. The poor man may not have the knowledge to successfully manage such financial, capital, and human assets.
More of a bad thing only amplifies the problem. Spending more cash does not resolve credit card debt. Eating more junk food is not going to fix your health. Fighting with your partner will not help your relationship if you continue poor communication.
Moreover, some issues are better left untouched. Rose Macaulay said, “It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them.” It may seem that this myth is the opposite to the myth “communicating a hidden problem worsens the problem”, but each have their own uses in various situations. Much like laughing, there are good and bad times to use each communication myth.
Sometimes a person can be so emotionally closed-off that they directly request you to keep quiet. What I do in this situation is use the technique of reflective responses to empathize with the person’s anger, frustration, or other emotion they experience. I say something along the lines of, “Seeing [whatever the issue is] makes you feel [feeling] because you need [whatever the need is].” Sometimes a person’s shield is too strong for any communication to get through. You need to shut up, respect people’s requests, and do as they say.
Silence is when change takes place.
When there is less communication, there is more silence – and silence is powerful. Silence marinates the conversation into the mind. Silence is where change takes place. Change occurs in the mind; not in words. You cannot expect a person to fully comprehend what you say while they listen to your words. Use silence to increase understanding and boost your persuasion abilities.
While more communication can create further poor communication, amplify problems better left untouched, and limit the power of silence; less communication helps us understand. Precision can be more dramatic and memorable. In this case, less is more.
#2 Myth: Nonverbal communication accounts for 93% of total communication
The number two myth is a close contender for the greatest communication myth. This myth is the most widespread communication lie, quickly spreading from many nonverbal communication articles and books that teach 93% of communication is nonverbal. Nearly every time nonverbal communication is discussed, you will hear this myth. The misunderstanding that nonverbal communication contributes 93% to all communication is the most quoted and misquoted piece of information in communication – ever.
If 93% of communication is nonverbal, learning a new language would be a breeze. Should this second greatest myth of communication be true, we could easily talk in different languages because words would make up an insignificant amount of communication.
Here is the truth about this myth. Albert Mehrabian, professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles, and Susan Ferris in a study titled Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels, looked at the contribution of verbal and nonverbal signals to total communication. The two researchers had participants listen to prerecorded voices of single words, such as “maybe”, while looking at black and white photographs of facial expressions. The participants were told the tonality of voices and facial expressions communicated disliking, liking, or neutrality. They were then asked to choose between the three attitudes for each recording. The study found facial expressions contribute 55% to communication while vocalics contribute 38% (a 3:2 ratio).
Mehrabian later on in his book Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes referred to the findings from his study as the 7%-38%-55% rule, a rule defining what factors give meaning to our words. The rule states that 7% of meaning is in the spoken words, 38% of meaning is in how we say the words, and 55% of meaning is in body language. Mehrabian explicitly states in follow up discussions on his studies and book that the 93% of nonverbal contribution to communication applies only when someone discusses his or her likes and dislikes. He says his findings were not intended to be applied to communication in general.
When a guy discusses his likes, you will see his energy rise. He will smile, talk more enthusiastically, show interest, vary his tonality, move around, and give off other nonverbal messages he likes the subject. Similarly, when he discusses his dislikes, you will see his drop in energy. He will frown, talk in a bitter manner, show disinterest, have a boring tonality, move less, and give off other nonverbal messages that he dislikes the subject. When listening to this guy talk about his likes and dislikes, 93% of your belief that he is telling the truth comes from nonverbal communication. If this guy frowned, talked in a bitter manner, and used boring vocalics when he supposedly talked about a like of his, you would conclude he dislikes what he is talking about.
#1 Myth: Good communication has taken place
While other communication myths can be shifted up or down a few spots amongst the top fifteen list, this myth remains concreted as the number one communication myth. The greatest myth you likely experience on a day-to-day basis is thinking you have communicated well with someone. George Bernard Shaw, recipient of the 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature, said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Communication is a buzzword that has too often been misused. You think you just experienced a great conversation, but all that took place was some talk and feel-good emotions. Forget thinking that good communication is only speaking with logic, telling the truth, expressing your intelligence, adapting to people’s communication styles, communicating as much as you can, making people feel good, making yourself feel good, keeping the two of you calm, or solving a problem.
Good communication does not take place when one of these things happen; rather, it is a point of open understanding where people walk away from the conversation feeling better. Good communication is determined by people’s responses. The NVC process is one of the best techniques to build understanding for good communication.
It is easy to blame other people on poor communication, but this is another myth – a lie to stop your need for truth and change. You are responsible for the communication in your life. You are aware of the 15 greatest myths of communication while others are not. It is up to you to bring the truth of these myths into your conversations.
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/
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- Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
- Emotional Intelligence, Interpersonal Relationships, Nonverbal Communication
- Albert Mehrabian, body language, business communication, communication skills, Difficult Conversations, emotion versus logic, Emotional Intelligence, George Bernard Shaw, Leil Lowndes, lying, myths, presentation, Robert Greene, truth