Some of people’s biggest problems with communication come in sharing new information with people they know well, newly published research at the University of Chicago shows.
Because they already share quite a bit of common knowledge, people often use short, ambiguous messages in talking with co-workers and spouses, and accordingly unintentionally create misunderstandings, said Boaz Keysar, Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.
"People are so used to talking with those with whom they already share a great deal of information, that when they have something really new to share, they often present it in away that assumes the person already knows it," said Keysar, who with graduate student Shali Wu tested Keysar’s communication theories and presented the results in an article, "The Effect of Information Overlap on Communication Effectiveness," published in the current issue of Cognitive Science.
"Sharing additional information reduces communication effectiveness precisely when there is an opportunity to inform—when people communicate information only they themselves know," the researchers said.
On a professional level, brief e-mails between colleagues can cause miscommunication, Keysar has learned from personal experience. "I once was scheduled to speak and had gotten the day of my talk mixed up. I received an e-mail from the host asking me if I was ok. I wrote back and said I was and didn’t find out until later that what he really wanted to know was where I was, as they were waiting for me to talk," Keysar said.