In the early days of telephones, an operator connected someone with another party by plugging wires into a switchboard. If everything worked properly, this action established a voice connection between the two parties. However, occasionally the operator crossed the wires and a person ended up talking with someone they had not intended to contact. The analogy of crossing wires spread into communication between people when there was a misunderstanding between the two parties. “Sorry, I think we crossed our wires” became a standard apology.
People are not always aware that wires have gotten crossed. Yet, the miscommunication may still cause emotions to flare. In extreme cases, a person may become so upset that they completely disconnect from the other person without the other person knowing why. Other times, however, the person recognizes that there was a miscommunication allowing them to take corrective action.
Human beings are constantly involved in some form of relationship with others. Thus, they are constantly vulnerable to miscommunication.
Ambiguity of the spoken word contributes to wires being crossed. English, in particular, contains many possible interpretations of the same set of words. Fortunately, it is believed that the actual words spoken may make up as little as 7% of communication with body language and tone accounting for the remainder.
A person cannot convey body language in writing without writing a small script. Although tone can be expressed through the written word, it can be challenging. Thus, the writer must convey their message using only a small fraction of the communication tools available when speaking.
Even when speaking, non-verbal communication may be challenging. Often, people are not conscious of the messages being sent to others via their non-verbal cues. Sometimes, the truth shows even when the speaker intends to hide it. For instance, a person’s true feelings may show when they are trying to encourage a friend, but feel in their heart that the situation will not work out. A person has to be both aware and practiced to hide or change non-verbal messages. Even politicians and others who are coached on body language often slip up and let their true feelings show.
Even when the intended message is conveyed, the recipients of the message may not interpret it as it was intended. Connections can become strained. And, sometimes those connections permanently break over something minor. If properly understood, the message would be accepted and have little or no impact on the relationship.
Things To Consider
If a person gets upset about something that someone says or does, they need to consider if they are properly interpreting the message. First, the person may desire to consider if there are alternative ways to interpret the message. Second, the person might ask the other person to explain further. Third, if the person believes they received the intended message, they might explain to the other person the message they received and how it affected them.
The person may just find out that wires got crossed. By clarifying the intent, it can potentially strengthen connections with others as they engage in caring and thoughtful communication.