Communication breakdown

Let’s face it; couples can be annoying, at least other couples can be annoying. Some of the more annoying “other couples” are those who let you know that they are of one mind, on the same wavelength, and know each other’s thoughts before they are spoken. The joyous ammunition for people who are annoyed by this species of “other couple” is that they might well be kidding themselves according to new research.

In the new study people were asked to sit back to back on chairs and try to discern the meaning of ambiguous phrases spoken by each other. Some of the couples were strangers, others friends, and others were married. The interesting finding was that spouses consistently overestimated how well they would communicate but in the end they actually communicated no better than strangers.

This comes down to a phenomenon known as “closeness-communication bias” which states that closeness to people leads to an overestimation of how well you communicate. The basis of this is that the speaker in a given circumstance will assume that the listener has all of the information that they have if they know the listener well. If the listener is a stranger though the speaker tends to provide more information as they don’t have a “closeness bias”.

Similarly, if a listener knows a speaker they may assume that any comment from the speaker is based on information that they have in common, when in fact it may not be. Such an assumption, and mistake, would not be made with a stranger.

So the problem in communicating with partners and spouses is that we have an illusion of insight that exceeds our actual understanding. The basic ingredient for effective communication is for the two parties to accept this central reality: “What I know is different from you.”

Make this mental adjustment in your thinking about your partner and see how it affects your communication. Greet them with a mental, “Hello stranger” and watch the understanding flow.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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