What things do people misunderstand in their lives

When two people misunderstand each other

The misunderstanding in communication

By Manfred Piwinger and Jörg Christoffel

"Something about misunderstandings, thinking side by side, talking past each other ..."

Kurt Tucholsky to his brother on January 18, 1931

(Found in: cultural history of misunderstandings, Stuttgart 1997)

We usually don't think about the risk of misunderstanding each other until it has happened. Then questions arise like "But I said it clearly enough, didn't I?" "How can you misunderstand that?" "Why does he always get that down the wrong way?" Misunderstandings that are discovered make one thing clear: We can only cope with our everyday lives by trusting in principle that others understand us - and we understand them. We replace Knowledge more often through such Assumptions than we realize. Then we part and believe we have understood each other, only to find out a short time later that this is not the case ...

Misunderstandings and their consequences

Misunderstandings happen every day. They are a natural part of our daily life and so self-evident that we are often not or only marginally aware of them. This is partly because many "small" misunderstandings don't have dramatic consequences. So why think big about it? With a shrug of the shoulders, we cover a lot here.

However, misunderstandings are potential for communication very dangerous, because they are based on a false basic assumption: You believe and trust that you have correctly agreed on a set of facts. At this point, the misunderstanding differs from the lack of understanding, which can be traced back to a lack of communication possibilities or prerequisites. Impaired hearing, language difficulties, transmission disorders, lack of education or limits to the ability to think also lead to communication problems, but are typically recognized more quickly because the partners in communication often notice as soon as they are communicating that the signals from the other side are not coming that meet the expectations of the Sender of the message would fit. There are other reasons for misunderstanding, but not this one.

A (meta) message is interpreted: "100 percent solidarity"

To give an explosive example of the extent of misunderstandings: When the German federal government promised the American government "one hundred percent solidarity" at the end of 2001 - after the terrible events of September 11th - there was undoubted harmony between the sender and recipient of the message. It was believed that they understood each other. The disappointment on the American side was correspondingly great when later decisions by the same sender made it clear at the end of 2002 that "solidarity" in no way excludes a starkly different position on the Iraq war. A deception has been exposed here: the misunderstanding about an interpretable term. People talked about the same thing, but didn't mean the same thing.

The ice age between the USA and Germany was due to the greatest danger of misunderstanding for communication: misunderstandings are often only noticed late - they become manifest with a delay. And then the damage is even greater. Until it is discovered, the dissent between the two interlocutors goes unnoticed - in the legal parlance of the German Civil Code (BGB), Section 155 therefore speaks of hidden dissent.

In the example mentioned, this hidden dissent lies on two levels:

  • On the one hand on the gradual level: The addressee - the USA - hears "100 percent" and derives the assurance of a message "no ifs and buts" from it.
  • On the other hand on the meta level: The term "solidarity" is a symbol to which both sides assign a certain meaning. For example, the interpretation "I stand by you. You can count on me" is conceivable. But also the completely different meta-message "I feel for you. I understand you." is covered by the symbolic concept of solidarity. Such a meta-message of sympathy and compassion does not have to be a behavioral intention, and certainly not the announcement that you want to go to war with you.

Misunderstanding and trust

From the American point of view, the federal government has behaved differently on both levels than the addressee of the solidarity address could have expected according to his own understanding. The result: a fundamentally shaken trust between two nations. Deep mutual injuries and bitter reproaches that culminated in the symbol "old Europe". One is probably not wrong if one interprets this symbol to mean that "old" is a reminder of a dissent between words and deeds. "Old" stands for weak, incapable of acting and fearful. The misunderstanding about the solidarity of Germany shows how dangerous it is to believe that you have understood each other without questioning either the facts or the symbols used.

The concept of misunderstanding

It is astonishing that research on this explosive topic has so far hardly taken on, unless one includes the wide field of intercultural studies. If we take a closer look at the subject of misunderstandings, then it is appropriate to make a conceptual demarcation. This is not entirely unproblematic. Because just between the terms "Missunderstanding" and "missunderstand" are worlds ...

In general, "misunderstanding" is taken to mean "getting it wrong and not quite right". So it is actually a lack of understanding and in the simplest case can be traced back to acoustic "misunderstanding", but it can just as well have its cause in an incorrect manner of expression. As a rule, "misunderstanding" is nowhere near as serious as a misunderstanding can be. If there is "misunderstanding", it is usually answered by questions such as "Can you please repeat that again?" "Do you mean June or July?" or "Would you speak a little louder, you can't be heard clearly back here?" Fixed.

An example of a smile from the "cultural history of misunderstandings" (Stuttgart 1997, p. 464) is suitable to illustrate the difference between the process and the later effect. There it is reported:

"Another misunderstanding arose when the photographer Lynn Goldsmith was commissioned to photograph Bob Dylan. In 1996, she reported in the Dylan fanzine" Series of Dreams "that she was sitting happily in a taxi and shouting:" I ' m going to shoot Dylan. Bob Dylan! "The driver stopped, told them to get out, and added that he wasn't carrying assassins."

The misunderstanding was (hopefully) uncovered by the taxi driver's statement, and the process did not end there. If the driver had remained silent and had then gone to the police, the manifestation of the misunderstanding that had been closed might have assumed other dimensions.

The distinction between these two terms is not hair-splitting, but rather illustrates an important difference between process and state. The process the "misunderstanding", if it is recognized, still offers the agent the chance to take corrective action. If there is a misunderstanding, however, the process has already been completed and will be in retrospect revealed as a mistake. Therefore, by definition, misunderstandings are belatedly manifest. The causal process is decoupled from the potentially serious result.

Differentiation from error

The label "misunderstanding" is all too quickly attached to facts that mean something different. When dealing with the topic, it helps to rely on the tried and tested accuracy of legal linguistic usage. In paragraph 155 of the BGB, the "misunderstanding" is described as a contradiction between the content of a declaration and the inclusion of this declaration by the contractual partner. This differentiates the misunderstanding from the error that occurs when the will of a speaker differs from his own utterance. The BGB does not use the actual term "misunderstanding". What we know as a misunderstanding is referred to there as a so-called lack of agreement, which can either be open or hidden. If anything, the hidden lack of agreement - or dissent - before the law is what we call misunderstanding in everyday life. If there is such a dissent, this has legal consequences:

"..., according to § 155 a contract is not considered to have been concluded from the outset if the parties, although they thought so, have not reached an agreement" in reality "unless it can be assumed that they would have concluded the contract in the knowledge of the dissent. "

Munich Commentary on the BGB, Volume 1, General Part (§§ 1–240), 3rd edition, Munich 1993, page 1174)

Whether George Bush the knew?


The phenomenon of misunderstanding is not just "just" a linguistic phenomenon, but a very important element of everyday human communication. What are the reasons, the laws of the misunderstanding? This question can be relevant for everyone involved in the misunderstanding, and can even be decisive for the success of communication. This article is dedicated to these questions.

Literature on the subject - nonexistent

The first demand is for the technical processing of this topic in the scientific and popular literature. Actually, it was to be expected that a quick and comprehensive gain in knowledge should be gained from this. Actually. After intensive literature research (in German and English) in libraries, at universities, in bookstores and further searches with the far-reaching possibilities of the Internet, one thing is certain: The misunderstanding is scientific wasteland, on which at most a single flower of knowledge appears. Among the well over 200 works with the word "misunderstanding" in the title, there was not a single one that dealt with this topic comprehensively in terms of communication science.

In fact, this is all the more astonishing because in today's world of information that is no longer manageable for the individual, "The misunderstanding" is not the exception, but the rule in our everyday communication processes. The "spaces of ignorance" (Bergler) are becoming increasingly larger, with the result that this alone increases the risk of misunderstandings occurring. Indeed, ignorance is a trap that misunderstanding tends to fall into.

Definition: A misunderstanding is the difference between what is meant and what is understood. Point. Hinnekamp in particular (Volker Hinnekamp: Misunderstandings in Talks. Opladen 1998) points out that a misunderstanding must first become "manifest" in order to be recognized as such. His hint is meaningful in several ways. At the same time, this indirectly confirms what we can all observe when we analyze our communication: In everyday conversation situations there are a lot of misunderstandings that are not noticed or noticed at all. So are there misunderstandings that do not become "manifest" and still fall under our definition? Yes there is.

Definition: "Undetected misunderstandings" are communicative catastrophes waiting to happen. The dangerous thing about these "latent" misunderstandings is that they can lead to a chain reaction of "misunderstanding". Typical of this type of communication disorder - or channel discrepancies in the choice of words of sociologists - are, for example, the silent post games, which we all had a lot of fun as children.

In real life, latent misunderstandings can be the breeding ground for disastrous consequences. However, in the literature we reviewed we did not find a single reference to the meaning of latent misunderstandings. Although the authors mention the case, they do not elaborate on it as if it does not exist.

In our view, a latent misunderstanding is as important as a manifest one. It might even be more urgent to deal with the former in the scientific field. One can counter such a view: How can one deal with something that I am not aware of at the point in time at which it arises? But how about a referral post festum? There is something to assume that the latent misunderstandings in their effects / consequences are the more important. and - if we take the example of a plane crash - lead to catastrophic consequences.

Definition: With the terms "latent" and "manifest" we locate the communicative occurrence of a misunderstanding on a time axis and separate the cause from its effect. It is probably not going too far if one suspects that a considerable part of our communication - especially this applies to the media - consists of research into the causes of a misunderstanding after a misunderstanding has taken effect. By nature we humans are curious analysts who, above all, want to understand crises. You really wish there were statistics that show how often crises arise from misunderstandings! The suspicion arises that there is a shocking number of unreported cases here.

"The language itself" as a source of misunderstanding

The fact is, when two seemingly talk about the same thing, they don't necessarily mean the same thing. Just ask two people what they mean by the adjective "conservative" and you will avoid the term like the devil does holy water in the future so as not to cause any more misunderstandings. But seriously. Natural language and misunderstanding go hand in hand. Our linguistic possibilities of expression are so enormous that there can be no fixed rule or guideline for the meaning of a statement. There are far too many influences from the immediate environment of a speech situation that can lead to the same utterance - depending on the context - assuming different meanings. Social psychology speaks of intervening third-party variables that influence our expressions and can even lead us to say the opposite of what we think - for example, when our boss stands by and listens attentively ...

As fantastic as human language is as a means of communication and as fascinating as it is that we can communicate linguistically on highly complex topics and contexts, the following is certain:

  • The misunderstanding is always just an interpretation achievement away and:
  • Misunderstandings lead to knowledge gain.

The moment they take effect and are discovered, they close a knowledge gap. Occasionally, however, at a high price.

A right to be misunderstood

Misunderstandings help to understand better - as paradoxical as that may sound. Because in the practice of conversation, understanding is negotiated on an ongoing basis. This is particularly easy to illustrate in situations in which it is important (appointments, giving information, commands, etc.) that you express yourself unambiguously: "Have we understood each other?", "Should I speak a little louder?", " Was that clear? "," Should I repeat that again as a precaution? " and on the other side: "Yes, I understood you", "As a precaution, I repeat it again so that there is no misunderstanding" etc. Depending on the situation, it is a question of the definition of whether an attempt is made in a speech situation, possible U.Nto prevent understanding or an act of Missto exclude understand.

Special cases of avoiding misunderstandings

There is a certain group of cases in which misunderstandings must be ruled out for reasons of security, care, speed and possible liability. On the one hand, this includes oral forms of speech like the order, the information and the route description, on the other hand belong here special fontssuch as instructions for use (for consumers), operating instructions (in a professional context, e.g. for machines and systems), work instructions, recipes, etc.

The scope of the instructions for use makes it clear how much effort has to be put into eliminating liability risks and describing complex issues unambiguously. At the same time, instructions for use provide a prime example of a form of communication that is either successful or ridiculously unsuccessful and which can cause a lot of trouble for a consumer. Such special, written forms of language, in which misunderstandings must be excluded, should not be considered here. The written formulation gives the author the time and opportunity to develop formulations and optimize them through trial and error.This is typically different in the oral exchange, although here too there is an individual "learning curve", which formulations are more ambiguous than others. It would not be surprising, for example, if German politicians used the signal word solidarity more cautiously in the future or avoided it altogether for a while.

The main focus of this article is the mechanisms that can lead to misunderstandings during spontaneous, oral communication in natural language. Within the oral language forms, the special case of the command should not be in the foreground either, because this form by definition excludes an important means of avoiding misunderstandings: the inquiry. Anyone who questions military orders faces completely different problems than those that could be caused by a misunderstanding ...

Another special case: misunderstandings and humor

It is a tried and tested means of creating comedy when you describe a situation to your audience in which a misunderstanding happens in front of an audience, so to speak. Hinnekamp (p. 83) gives an example for this type of joke - albeit not a general one:

"Teacher: The police are looking for a student who is molesting girls in the vicinity of the school.

Student: Where can I report? "

Harmless is an ancient joke that probably everyone knows:

Ober: How did you like the schnitzel?

Guest: By chance when I picked up the potato.

The special case of misunderstanding in jokes should not be in the foreground here either. What one can learn from the joke, however, is that misunderstandings can be extremely embarrassing for those who make them. The audience has the laugh, if it doesn't get stuck in their throats.

If it does

If two people misunderstand each other and the misunderstanding becomes manifest, two things can happen: You pull yourself together and clear up the misunderstanding, or you cement your own position and experience how the misunderstanding makes irreconcilable differences visible - politics sends its regards. In both cases, the effect is ultimately the same, the misunderstanding helps to clarify. However, this requires a process of understanding, during which the participants are forced to "show their colors" - for example by formulating motives, expectations and intentions that have not yet been expressed. So you catch up on what should have happened beforehand to prevent the misunderstanding.

Conclusion: The misunderstanding can ensure that a missing or lost foundation is established.

Misunderstandings and power

However, the whole thing also has something to do with power: It is a sign of superiority (and / or arrogance) when a conversation partner pointedly asks the other person the question: "I'm here unmistakable Expressed? "The right to wrest unconditional approval from the other party is a characteristic of a position of power. True to the motto, a weaker person must not afford any misunderstandings. He got to Understand correctly, and "correctly" in this case means: as the stronger wants it to be understood.

This rule of the game is a point that can cause conflicts, for example in communication between industry executives and journalists. Managers who are accustomed to power sometimes find it difficult when journalists "misunderstand" them by making their own sense of something. Some managers would be perfectly fine if they could give journalists this right to interpretation a statement - and thus to a "misunderstanding" - deny. If a manager starts his statement in an interview with the phrase "Let me be very clear on this point ...", an observer who is experienced in communication knows that something is starting to derail here.

Conclusion: The right to misunderstand and misunderstand is a characteristic of equitable communication, in which both parties are on the same level in that they equally have the right to understand what the other side is saying - and that means to interpret! So the misunderstanding is at its core a democratic virtue.

Harmless or not?

In contrast to what we have seen in the research literature so far, we believe that harmless misunderstandings do not constitute a "communicative accident". Rather, they are small misunderstandings without far-reaching consequences. It is in the mutual interest of the interlocutors to clear them up. At least as long as their intention is towards understanding, which is probably the norm in everyday life. Another characteristic of harmless misunderstandings is that they manifest themselves quickly and are quickly resolved in a kind of correction process, characterized by questions and counter-questions. Possible negative consequences do not arise in the first place.

But of course it cannot be ruled out that such seemingly harmless misunderstandings can have serious consequences. This is always the case when they are not recognized or there is no real interest on the part of one side or the other in clarifying the facts on which the conversation is based. Typically such situations occur in a tense atmosphere, when the mood is irritable, time pressure forces you to stay short or simply lack of interest according to the motto "What does it all concern me?" determines the conversation.

Even with such small and harmless misunderstandings, friendships can break, cooperation in the company can suffer, marriages break up and moods turn negative. In this respect, we have to distinguish between harmless misunderstandings that have no consequence and those that - and this is important for the distinction - unintentionally cause consequences.

Conclusion: Whether a misunderstanding is harmless or not depends on how quickly it is uncovered and whether further misunderstandings follow in a chain reaction.

Misunderstanding no thanks?

There is currently an entire profession that "surrenders" to the possible effects of the problem and is in the process of saying goodbye to natural, human language as our instrument of communication that has grown over decades: project managers and programmers in the field of software system development are now adopting it to describe the description of what a system / program must be able to do (the "specification sheet") no longer in human language, but in an artificial language (e.g. Matlab-Simulink). Instead of ambiguous formulations, as they are typical for human language, the objective description is sought, in which there can no longer be any interpretation errors. It will be interesting to see whether the person who produced his language himself is able to abstract from himself and his own "flawedness" in this way.

The problem is of course much older than fast-moving information technology. How incredibly difficult it is to rule out misunderstandings can be seen from the number of pages on business contracts: Anyone who has ever seen and read such a document from a large American company and its business partner knows how much patient paper it takes if a company wants to be on the safe side that your business partner is denied any (even deliberate) misunderstanding of business agreements in writing.

Conclusion: For everyday communication and for informal communication, saying goodbye to natural language and the approximate accuracy of contracts is not an alternative. The misunderstanding is a price we pay for communicating flexibly and quickly

Excursus 1: Statement and interpretation

Despite the constant threat of misunderstanding, the following applies: Language is an instrument of communication, at least in nine out of ten cases, because most of the time the whole thing works: you use language to regulate everyday situations. Words are also used to describe complex issues, and carefully balanced, well-defined and carefully considered words are used to formulate contracts.

The more surely you want to be sure that the communication works - and the correct understanding can even be enforced if necessary - the more effort we put into eliminating misunderstandings. On the everyday level, this effort is relatively low, because if something goes wrong here, if a misunderstanding occurs, we often do not consider the consequences to be so dramatic that we question all statements and agreements again. You trust that the other person will really understand when they nod or say yes. Only with more important things do we proceed in such a way that we repeat the core of the agreement. Simple example: making an appointment. What is said and meant reads like this:

"Okay, I'll see you on Tuesday at eight."

(Embassy: We just made an appointment. You and I come to this appointment because we both have an interest in it. We'll meet at eight o'clock.)

(Meta message: You now have the last opportunity to correct this agreement. If you don't, I'll come and expect you to be there too.)

"Alright see you then."

(Embassy: I agree to the agreement that we will meet on the date you just mentioned and will be there.)

(Meta message: I understood your question, even though it was formulated as a statement. I answer your question by neither contradicting nor limiting my consent.)

A very similar communication can also have a completely different meaning if both speakers come from different cultures:

"Let's talk about it tonight."

(Embassy: I want to clarify a topic, but not now.)

(Meta message: We have a problem. We need to talk about it directly.)

"Okay. I'll see you."

(Embassy: I respond to you politely and respectfully.)

(Meta message: Harmony is more important than directness. I won't be at work tonight when you come but avoid a conflict that I find embarrassing.)

In formal matters, one tries to exclude such and other sources of error. Depending on the corporate culture, a business appointment may have to be confirmed in writing and counterconfirmed by both parties. All of this ultimately serves only one purpose: We want to make sure that we have the intention and seriousness have correctly recognized behind an agreement and can rely on it.

The main cause of misunderstanding: Every utterance we make is interpreted by our listeners and interlocutors. Everyone assumes that what we say has an intention because that is a basic human constant in communication. We always want something whether we are aware of it or not. Unintentional communication belongs in the realm of theory. We humans always have a goal, a need, a fear or a hope. Our minds are programmed to recognize the meaning of a linguistic statement. The classic popular among linguists for its simplicity is:

"The window is open."

(Embassy: It draws. I'm cold.)

(Meta message: Please close this window if someone is sitting closer.)

"Yes, the fresh air is good."

(Embassy: Now you know that I value the open window.)

(Meta message: Say directly what you want, but be aware that I disagree!)

Consequential misunderstandings

One of the great handicaps of the relevant research literature we have reviewed, which, as already mentioned, mainly comes from German linguistic studies, is that it ignores the seriousness of the consequences of misunderstandings. Even tragic events, such as a plane crash, are treated more or less casuistically. The consequences of misunderstandings for the practitioner is the only weighty question that needs to be investigated. If misunderstandings remain without positive or negative consequences, what is the point of dealing with them? That would be l àrt pour l àrt.

But this brings us to the second category of misunderstandings, which we want to designate as momentous misunderstandings as opposed to harmless misunderstandings. What is "momentous" does not need to be explained in detail. We use this to summarize all misunderstandings that have serious consequences. If such a misunderstanding triggers a crisis, leads to a plane crash, triggers diplomatic entanglements close to a threat of war or personal disagreements of a serious nature, it is momentous in many ways. The consequences can either be political, economic or have an impact on social coexistence. There is still plenty of room here for open research that is not based solely on linguistic aspects.

In the cases mentioned, one can actually speak of "communicative accidents" with Hinnekamp. But a new research approach must go further and show, for example, the "management of the consequences of misunderstandings", strategies for avoiding them, as well as the possibilities of a credible technology to clear up the misunderstanding, as well as the associated instruments.

Interim balance

If the first attempt at structuring misunderstandings was to classify them according to their consequences, a further classification will now be attempted in the next step. Instead of the consequences, it is about the intention that underlies the respective misunderstanding. According to this consideration there are:

  • unintentional misunderstandings

    Characterization: A and B try to understand each other, send apparently clear signals and mutually confirm their understanding. The will of both sides and the message coincide.

    Example: A and B talk about "the new" music CD by an artist. In truth, both refer to different CDs because A does not know that there is a newer CD from the artist.

  • frivolous misunderstandings

    Characterization: A and B try to understand each other, but send not very clear signals and / or take too little time to mutually confirm their understanding. The will of both sides and the message coincide.

    Example: A and B make an appointment. B hears July where A said June.

  • accidental misunderstandings

    Characterization: A and B try to understand each other, send apparently clear signals and, under the influence of a random variable, mutually confirm their understanding. Will and message match.

    Example: In communication with B, A uses a term that B interprets differently on the background of additional knowledge than layman A, who does not have this knowledge background and means something else by it. Both confirm their understanding, but refer to different things. Will and message match.

  • intended misunderstandings

    Characterization: A or B tries to understand the other person. Both send apparently clear signals and mutually confirm their understanding. Will and message do not match.

    Example: A assures B something - already with the intention of later interpreting the wording of the promise differently than B understands it during the conversation. This form of misunderstanding fulfills the criteria of (fraudulent) deception and is used because A believes that he can later, if necessary, talk his way out of a misunderstanding.

By far the most interesting is the preoccupation with the unintentional and the intended misunderstandings, because they are either difficult to prevent or an instrumentalization for a selfish purpose.

The misunderstanding between "presumption of innocence" and strategy

When misunderstandings arise, this is an example of failed communication. Hopefully we initially tend to react benevolently and assume that the other person does not understand us better could. In doing so, depending on our life experience, we are well aware that the other can also intentionally "misunderstand" us. In this case, our counterpart agrees to an agreement, the way he wants to understand it. We resent such an intention very much because we see opposition in it. One can provoke a misunderstanding without lying. This makes it a dangerous tool in the hands of "connoisseurs".

Attention as a key

One can also learn from radio communication: in communication between air traffic controllers and pilots, for example, repetition of what is heard plays an important role. Steven Cushing emphasizes in his book Fatal Words (Chicago / London 1994) on the one hand the need to use unambiguous terminology and on the other hand the importance of the correct repetition of what has been said:

"A correct repetition substantially replicates an earlier utterance in all relevant features; an incorrect repetition fails to replicate some key feature of an earlier utterance that it otherwise matches." (P. 38)

Cushing describes that part of the training of air traffic controllers is to increase the controller's awareness:

"As with any problem, awareness is the first key. "(p. 90)

An attentive listener has the chance to notice mistakes and misunderstandings in the repetition by his counterpart. According to the definition at the beginning of this article, a control loop is drawn in that reveals the process of misunderstanding as long as there is still an immediate chance of correction and the process of misunderstanding has not yet been completed.

What Cushing demands as attention on the linguistic and radio-technical level is that for Reinhard Fiehler Observer perspective as an important part of successful communication:

"The relevant case is that the parties themselves to noticethat such a problem (sc. a communication problem; author's note) ... has occurred and that they do thematize and possibly to edit. ... The prerequisite for noticing is that those involved not only communicate, but that they observe the communication process in the form of monitoring. "

(Reinhard Fiehler (ed.): Understanding problems and disturbed communication. Opladen, 1998, p. 7)

For pessimists:You don't have a chance, so use it

Misunderstandings are part of communication. Even with the smartest communication strategy, it will not always be possible to prevent it. So you have to endure misunderstandings. Annoyingly, they are part of the individual's freedom - their freedom to see and interpret the world with their own eyes. According to your own rules and criteria. In the best case, you can reduce misunderstandings by putting yourself as close as possible to your counterpart and trying to understand the other's motivations. Of course, this does not prevent accidental misunderstandings and intentional "misunderstandings".

Misunderstandings can occur through "hidden lack of agreement" on each of these levels - for example through ambiguity on the lexical level. The last point is most likely to be paid attention to in communication practice: Communication that is differentiated according to target groups is essentially explained by the question of whether one assesses one's counterpart as a professional or as a layperson. From this it follows what knowledge and what background one can assume with him. A principle example: where a shipbuilding engineer will automatically think of gross register tons when it comes to "displacement power", a psychoanalyst immediately updates a completely different context.

Tannen designs in his book "I didn't say that." (Hamburg 1992) on page 146 a gloomy picture that you don't necessarily have to share:

"The belief that you just have to sit down and talk to each other to promote mutual understanding and solve problems is based on the premise that we can say what we mean and that our words are understood as we are they think. However, this sequence of events is extremely unlikely ... "

For optimists:Courage to leave a gap

Misunderstandings are part of communication. Without the willingness to accept misunderstandings and gaps in knowledge, our communication would often be far too cumbersome and take too long. The prime example in this regard are journalists. Their craft insists to a large extent on conveying as much current information as possible in the shortest possible time and yet producing as few misunderstandings and misunderstandings as possible among the listener or reader. A difficult art that justifies the existence of a profession of its own. Incidentally, that does not mean that journalists are role models for non-interest, neutral communication. Not at all. But one expects unambiguity, conciseness, brevity and clarity from them - whether ideological in the sense of the reader or not.

Misunderstandings are also part of communication because there is often no time for clarifying queries. As long as we have a statement acoustically hear clearly or optically clearly recognize the individual Recognize terms, one relevance for us to see in it and a "more logical" Offers context, we save ourselves fundamental discussions. We believe we have understood what was meant. We save everything else in case something goes wrong ... Or, as Fiehler puts it in a nutshell:

"Communication has Experimental character."

(Reinhard Fiehler (ed.): Understanding problems and disturbed communication. Opladen, 1998, p. 7)

The knowledge of the ubiquity of threatening misunderstandings should of course not lead to indifference. Instead of the motto "Close your eyes and through", the sporting ambition should apply here to avoid misunderstandings as well as unnecessary discounts in golf. Misunderstandings are a handicap that you can work on very well and successfully. Playing a "hole in one" is feasible - also in communication. It is important that you know the rules of the game of misunderstanding and act accordingly.

The full article was published in: Bentele, Günter / Piwinger, Manfred / Schönborn, Gregor (eds.). Communication management. Strategies. Knowledge. Solutions. 2001 ff. (Loose leaf), Art. No. 8.04, Kriftel / Neuwied