The Single Biggest Illusion With Communication

Communication Image
“The single biggest problem in communicaiton is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw

The heart of the problem is that you and I were raised differently than our parents.  

We grew up inundated with messages about proper communication.  

We were always requested to explain everything to our parents and teachers.  

I was raised to be open and honest about my feelings, and to seek out feedback from adults.

How about you?

Problems can usually be solved by good, honest communication. 

But, this is not always the way the world works.  Especially, the world of business.

When you walk into our supervisor’s office to talk about a problem, do you ever wonder if you come across as whiny or incompetent? 

That’s rarely our intention. 

You and I were both raised to talk through our problems, but those who raised us seem to forget their previously communicated expectations.

In this post, my goal is to share actions you can take to experiment with your personal style of communication and limit the number of misunderstandings that might occur at your work. 


discuss values

The answer to the problem of communication is more communication.  

I would agrue that every employee and supervisor must have a conversation about communication and share communication styles.  

Supervisors should always have a very specific conversation with employees about their preferred method of communication and ask employees about their preferences as well.

Often, advice is geared towards employees holding conversations with supervisors, but the truth of the matter is that we are dealing with basic, fundamental, best practices.  

These fundamental practices should work for everyone.

If you are an individual contributor and do not know how to begin, start off by asking your supervisor to talk about his or her communication style. 

For example, if he or she is fiercely independent and does not care about feedback, then the burden might fall on you to understand how to overcome this hurdle.

It does not matter if it’s right or wrong. You want to understand the system that you are a part of and optimize it to your advantage. 

I like to begin by asking the supervisor to share his or her core communication values.

For example, if he or she prefers to be left alone so he or she can spend time working instead of talking about working, then clearly you need to know that. 

If the supervisor beats around the bush, ask “Should I let you focus?” and “When would be a good time for me to approach you?” 

Ask how often he or she plans on providing feedback.

If you don't know what to talk about, here are a few key discussion points.

  • Talk about trust.
  • Ask about your supervisors baseline for trust: “What will allow me to maintain your trust?”  
  • Ask your supervisor to let you know when your work isn’t meeting the expectations.
  • Tell your supervisor how you like to be supervised and what your expectations are.  

Take notes on what comes out of this discussion. Write down what your supervisor said.

If there is a mismatch between you and your employer, then this is a good time to talk about it. I remember a specific time when I kept reiterating my work because I had not recieved any feedback on my work. 

It was only months later that I discovered that no feedback meant I was doing my job.

Ask if your supervisor has an open door policy. Make a promise that you will not misuse this policy. 



Generally speaking, people respond to the type of communication they are providing themselves.  

Does your supervisor speak in short, terse sentences that get right to the point?  

If so, it might be smart to get right to the point when speaking with them.  

Does your supervisor send everything via email? 

If so, respond the same way.

Keep in mind that everybody has different modes of communication. Your responsibility: figure that out lies on your shoulders. 

It is not your boss’ responsibility to figure out how to communicate with you, it is your job to communicate with them.  

Remember it's you who is trying to conquer communication, not your boss. 

Learn what to expect from your supervisor.

  • Establish concrete expectations in terms of communications.  
  • Both parties must know what to expect
  • Both parties should have a sense of what each one is looking for.  
  • Make it is personal.  
  • Acknowledges that everyone is different, but that there is common ground to build from.

Along with what we have discussed so far, there is plenty of other advice on how to become a better communicator. 

It took me a long time, but I quickly realized that none of this matters unless I reflect on the strategies that work well for me. 

Keep exploring different communication strategies and styles to find a sweet spot for yourself, and don’t forget to spend time reflecting on how it was executed.

Everyone should have a reflection roadmap if the end goal is to get better. 

Here is one to get you started. Don’t forget to adjust the roadmap itself based on the different strategies you decide to employ.



Step 1

  • Identify what worked. 
  • Eliminate what didn’t. 
  • Consistently use what worked. 
  • Find new ways to test the system you develop for yourself. 
  • Did you and your supervisor talk about communication styles?
  • How did it go? Did it help?

Step 2

  • Were you able to get your supervisor to share his or her core values?
  • How did it go? Did it work?
  • How did you talk about trust?
  • Have you ever lost trust? If so, how did it happen? What did you do to regain it?

Step 3

  • Did you tell your supervisor how you like to be supervised and what your expectations are? 
  • What did your supervisor say?
  • Does your supervisor have an open door policy?

Step 4

  • Have you ever used mirroring to conquer communication? Did it work?
  • What medium does your supervisor use to communicate?
  • Did you have to change your own communication style to become a better communicator?

Step 5

Keep the final version of the communication system that delivers consistent results and requires the least amount of work.