by Dr. Travis Bradberry
When it comes to communication, we all tend to think we’re pretty good at it. Truth is, even those of us who are good communicators aren’t nearly as good as we think we are. This overestimation of our ability to communicate is magnified when interacting with people we know well.
Researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business put this theory to the test and what they discovered is startling. In the study, the researchers paired subjects with people they knew well and then again with people they’d never met. The researchers discovered that people who knew each other well understood each other no better than people who’d just met! Even worse, participants frequently overestimated their ability to communicate, and this was more pronounced with people they knew well.
“Our problem in communicating with friends is that we have an illusion of insight,” said study co-author Nicholas Epley. “Getting close to someone appears to create the illusion of understanding more than actual understanding.”
When communicating with people we know well, we make presumptions about what they understand—presumptions that we don’t dare make with strangers. This tendency to overestimate how well we communicate (and how well we’re understood) is so prevalent that psychologists even have a name for it: closeness-communication bias.
“The understanding, ‘What I know is different from what you know’ is essential for effective communication,” said study lead Kenneth Savitsky, “but that insight can be elusive. Some [people] may indeed be on the same wavelength, but maybe not as much as they think. You get rushed and preoccupied, and you stop taking the perspective of the other person.”
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