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Understanding Misunderstandings by Jim Stovall

Recently, I sent some business correspondence to a colleague and was shocked when the matter was not handled in the way I expected it to be, as I was certain I had been totally clear in my instructions and expectations. When I went back to check what I had dictated, I realized that the misunderstanding was inevitable because I had not considered the many ways that my words could be received and understood.

Today, more than ever in both our personal and professional lives, it is critical that we understand others and strive to have them understand us. There are enough differences of opinion and debates raging in our society without adding confusion and miscommunication to the mix. I often repeat the advice from my late, great friend and colleague, Dr. Stephen Covey, who said, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”

There are several techniques we can use to avoid miscommunication. First and foremost among them is to simply confirm that your message has been received and is understood. However, always remember that the most ridiculous question you can ask is, “Do you understand?”

Every misunderstanding begins with two or more people believing that they have accurately communicated and fully understood. The better question is, “What do you understand?” Giving an example of what you have in your mind or asking the other individuals involved to give an example from their perspective can avoid many miscommunications.

Text messages and emails are great tools but can be a shortcut to miscommunications and misunderstandings. I love to read books that are made up of correspondence sent by historical figures I admire. If you ever have the chance to read letters written by Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, or Abraham Lincoln, you are in for a rare and valuable treat. Our ancestors had the advantage of considering their correspondence in light of the fact that it would be eagerly read and saved by those receiving it.

Unfortunately, here in the 21st century, our texts and emails are just as influential, but we take little, if any, time considering them because they will be gone in a digital moment. If it’s worth taking the time to correspond with someone, it’s worth taking the time to read it before you send it.

As you go through your day today, strive to make your communication clear.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift. He is also a columnist and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK 74145-9082; by email at; on Twitter at; or on Facebook at

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