The Top 3 Sources of Communication Breakdowns

FACT: All external input—what you see, hear, taste, smell and touch—is filtered through the emotional center of the brain before you are able to use your cognitive brain.

RESULT: All information is distorted, no matter how logical you think you are.

OUTCOME: Three major causes of communication breakdowns:

1. What You Assumed Would Happen (assumptions)

You have ideas about how people will act and what they will say prior to any given situation. Then, when in the situation, you judge what is right and good based on what you assumed would happen. Your assumptions keep you locked into a point of view that keeps you from seeing what else is possible.

2. What Didn’t Happen (expectations)

You also judge people based on how much their behavior differed from what you desired to occur, whether you had any idea how they would respond or not. If you do not get what you want, especially personally (respect, understanding, appreciation, attention, love, control, safety, praise, time or space), your brain will be consumed with finding faults and looking for either ways to attack someone or ways to escape from the situation.

3. What Happened in Your Point of View (perception)

Everyone sees and interprets situations differently based on past experiences and current knowledge. Add this selective perspective to your assumptions and desires and you will find that misunderstandings are inevitable.


1. Quiz your brain.

a. Ask yourself if you have any assumptions about the situation that might get in the way of seeing new possibilities.

b. Ask your body what emotional state it is feeling in the moment. If you sense any anger or fear in your body (check in with your stomach, your chest and your throat), ask yourself what you wanted to happen that did not. Be honest. No matter if you see yourself as a logical, non-emotional person, you are human meaning your social needs supersede your logical analysis. If you discover what you wanted to happen but did not, ask yourself if you can ask for what you socially need. If not, can you get your needs met in another way?

2. Explain your reactions more than you think you need to. Describe your point of view. Ask others to describe why they are thinking, acting and feeling in the moment. Be curious. Accept differences as a matter of course. Then be willing to negotiate desired outcomes based on what everyone wants and needs.

3. Expect the unexpected. Rarely do things turn out as we expected or assumed. Yet we still react when what happens doesn’t match what we wanted or hoped for. On the other hand, if you expect twist and turns in any situation, then you have less to protect. Go with the flow and life will feel much smoother.

Although you may not be able to see eye to eye, you can see brain to brain with better communication habits.

Marcia Reynolds provides coaching and leadership training for organizations worldwide. Contact her for more information on how to be the master of your brain, not the victim of your emotions.

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