2. Understanding the Communication Process

Our ability to communicate allows us to exchange information and ideas, negotiate, motivate, and lead. But the communication process is far from perfect, and can often lead to misunderstandings. In this lesson, you will have the chance to consider how our unique communication styles are influenced by symbolism, culture, and perception. You will also learn how to avoid common communication pitfalls.

Communication Pitfalls and Solutions

In this first video, we will be introduced to Amisi, an internationally educated health professional, and Joan, a nurse manager, before they meet for a job interview that day. As we watch them prepare for the day, the narrator will outline some elements of communication that can present challenges or sources of miscommunication. The text below summarizes these challenges.

(To read along click here.)


Communication is symbolic. It can be very challenging to express exactly what we are thinking and feeling to another person. Once a thought leaves our brain, the words we choose, our tone of voice, our facial expressions and gestures—all symbols of our original thought—influence the way it’s received by someone else. In return, the response we hear back is merely a symbol of the other person’s original thought.


Now add culture to the mix. With a different understanding of language, tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures, the chances of the other person interpreting your symbolic message as you intended it—and of you interpreting theirs—drops even lower.

Your communication style is unique to you, formed through your experiences with your family, culture, education, profession, and your own personal characteristics. These influences lead you to perceive the world and interpret communication in a particular way.


Perception is how we select, organize and evaluate information, and this process is far from perfect. Perception is learned and selective, and it is culturally determined. It tends to remain constant, and in fact perceptions can be difficult to change. Perceptions can also be a source of miscommunication.

Perception is something that happens subconsciously—it is not something that you decide to do. On the other hand, the observations we make are more deliberate. Effective managers accept when they don’t know—this allows for more open communication to occur, where observations become the starting point.

Understanding and Self-Awareness

According to cross-cultural management expert Dr. Nancy Adler, studies show that effective international managers—those who deal successfully with team members from a variety of cultures—understand the pitfalls of the communication process and they incorporate this knowledge into their management style.

Dr. Adler suggests that effective managers:

  • observe what is being said and done, but try not to interpret or evaluate it
  • try to see the situation through the eyes of the other person when evaluation is needed
  • treat their evaluations as guesses or hypotheses that need to be checked out with others
  • always try to stand back from themselves and remain self-aware

Starting from the point of view of observation instead of assumption helps to minimize miscommunication and maintain open communication.

Self-Reflection: Communication Pitfalls and Solutions

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