Communication involves two groups, the sender and the receiver, and each has unique responsibilities to ensure effective communication. If either or both parties fail to fulfill their responsibilities, there will be a communication breakdown. Since communication always involves at least two distinct individuals and these individuals bring their biases into any conversation, the cause of any miscommunication can be on either the sender or the receiver end. Understanding the responsibilities of each participant can help us understand the causes of communication failure and how to prevent it.

Assuming Knowledge

What may be obvious to you may not be obvious to your audience. Skipping over key details because they are obvious to you can leave your audience bewildered and frustrated. It is often difficult to know what knowledge an audience or individual brings into a conversation, so it is incumbent on the speaker to give a thorough explanation while looking for clues of confusion in the audience. In addition, being able to fully understand and address questions is vital. Listening to the question and understanding where the confusion lies is an important skill that many people do not possess.

Unclear Language

Using language that is not appropriate to the subject or audience is another problem. Reliance on technical jargon could confuse your audience. In addition, vague or imprecise language can leave your audience with an incomplete understanding or a misunderstanding of what you are communicating. Getting the right balance between the technical language necessary to convey the message and using vocabulary that is comprehensible and stimulating to your audience is the key.


As a receiver of a message, it is important to be receptive to the message -- to understand what the speaker is trying to communicate. This can be complicated by personal biases or boredom. If we disagree with what is being communicated, it is sometimes difficult to listen with an open mind. If a subject is not interesting, it is easy to tune the speaker out and miss out on key components of the message. Active listening, either taking notes if in an audience or repeating and paraphrasing if in a conversation, can help to increase our receptiveness to a message.

Excessive Ego

Sometimes in a conversation, it becomes more important to be right than to understand what the other person is saying. Instead of listening to the other person’s points, we spend the time they are speaking thinking about what our response is going to be. When a conversation degenerates into an argument, it is easy to fall into using this tactic. Instead of understanding the other person’s ideas, we are fully concentrated on how best to impose ours on them. The ability to divorce your ego from an argument and listen to the other person is a difficult but vital skill to effective communication.