Why is Communication So Difficult?

Rev. Deb Koster

March 23, 2022

But I TOLD you all about it, I explained it in detail! How can you not remember?

Have you ever said this? You recall spelling out all the details, but somehow the message never connected. We all have stories of misunderstandings. Sometimes they're hilarious, and sometimes they're painful.

I have had to learn repeatedly that I should never tell my spouse things in the morning. I am evidently a slower learner! Before the morning cup of coffee, the ability to recall a conversation is thin, even when when asked to repeat it back. I eventually learned to leave important conversations for later in the day or to leave a note for communication that needs to happen in the morning.

Why is communication so difficult?

Isn’t communication a simple process? The speaker speaks and the listener listens, and everyone understands each other, right? Evidently not!

So why is communication so complicated? How is it that we can hear things so differently? Consider how both the speaker and the listener and the surrounding environment can create challenges that derail effective communication.

Send a clear message

Some of our communication breakdown has to do with the speaker.

  • Is the speaker sending content effectively? Are we communicating our message clearly and directly? Are we spelling out the details and asking for what we need?
  • Are our expectations realistic? Sometimes we expect our partner to know as much about the context as we do, assuming they see the same things in the same way we do.
  • Is the speaker communicating in a clear way? Sometimes we expect our partner to read our non-verbals or just know what we are thinking. We might say one thing, but really mean something unsaid.
  • We may be naturally quiet or shy about communicating our thoughts and feelings. Are we trying to imply what we really think is important without saying it? Choose to practice assertive communication.

Choose a conducive environment

Some of our communication breakdown has to do with our environment. Choose a healthy environment for having important conversations.

There may be external blocks to communication. For some the hearing aide battery strength limits the communication. Maybe there's lots of peripheral noise and distractions. The TV is on, the kids are yelling, and your spouse is in the other room. Trying to yell something isn't going to be effective.

Maybe there's emotional noise. Maybe your teen just slammed a door and your spouse came home from an angry boss. Maybe you've got company in the next room you wish would go home. The mental focus to speak and listen well isn't there. You may need to reduce distractions with some privacy and gain direct and complete attention before you can fully connect.

Receiving attentively

Some of our communication breakdown has to do with the listener. Many things within us distract us from truly hearing one another. We all have filters that we listen through before the message can even reach us for processing.

  • Memories: Past experiences shape how we see the world, so we're always listening through a filter of memories. We are not hearing the just speaker’s words about only now, we're hearing the echoes of another time, maybe good, maybe bad. Maybe a previous argument or experience is strong enough to distract us from the conversation.
  • Strong feelings: When emotions are charged, like in the heat of an argument when we have so much we want to say (or shout), our ability to hear each other drops dramatically.
  • Values & beliefs: Our values are great things, but when we sense comfortable beliefs being challenged, we immediately become alarmed and establish a defensive posture that makes listening impossible.
  • Repeated topics: Sometimes we revisit the same discussion so many times that we are can’t hear beyond a previous experience.
  • Interests: our interest can captivate us or lead us to distraction from what is being communicated to us at the moment.
  • Expectations/Assumptions: If the listener has assumptions about a certain subject, they may be stuck there and never really hear the message being spoken.
  • Attitudes: At times we are so stuck on a certain subject that the minute we approach it, we are lost in a negative attitude and we are no longer hearing anything.
  • Gender: we have different understandings of meanings specific to our gender. A comment may be understand differently because of our gendered experiences.

When we consider all of our internal and external distractions it is a wonder that we can communicate at all! Awareness of these obstacles will help us to work through the challenges. An attentive listener can tune in to recognize their own emotional filters and receive what is being said as information to be processed. Taking the time to process before responding allows the listener time to evaluate the information in light of their filters so they can respond rather than react.

Tuning in to emotions

Naming the emotion that the speaker is using can go a long way in helping the speaker feel heard. A listener who can name the emotion and respond with empathy is bearing another's emotional burdens as God has called us to do (Galatians 6:2).

Communication may be challenging, but God's grace is sufficient for us. Let us practice God's desire that "... every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). Let us tune our ears to one another and let the love of Jesus flow through our conversations.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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