The consequences of mishearing

Mishearing is particularly difficult for relationships, because often the person who is mishearing isn't even aware it's happening. As far as they're concerned, everything is as they expect, until one day something happens that challenges their assumptions.

Perhaps they get the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps they make someone cross. Perhaps they misunderstand something important. Fingers get pointed. Feelings get hurt. Friendships get strained.

Because when someone mishears, their reality differs from everyone else's. And this leads to friction, frustration and misunderstanding.

Mishearing Causes Friction

A clash of perceptions

Imagine you have blue eyes. Someone tells you they are brown. They are absolutely convinced of it. But you know better. All your life you've had blue eyes – you see them every day. But everytime they talk about your eyes, they say brown. "That shirt really goes with your brown eyes." or "My brother has the same colour eyes as you."

When someone's reality differs from our own, it's difficult to find that common ground.

Such a clash of perceptions—especially when each party "knows best"—inevitably leads to friction. Tempers rise. Awkwardness hangs in the air, for fear people will take it personally.

Getting personal

That's why wherever there's mishearing, there's friction:

One person's "You're not listening!" is another person's "You're mumbling!"

Who's right? We feel we need closure: to get the other person to admit we are right, that they are wrong. We may even recruit people to our cause. And so the friction spreads. And with it, mistrust and isolation.

Mishearing Causes Frustration

Once we're sure in our own minds that someone is mishearing us, we see their refusal to admit they're wrong as stubborness or pride. Equally, if someone accuses us of mishearing we see it as a refusal on their part to understand that they can't expect us to hear them if they're talking from upstairs, or from another room, or when there's noise going on in the background.

Our lack of ability to convince someone otherwise, and restore the status quo, leads to a sense of powerless. This leads to frustration. Even anger.

Mishearing Causes Misunderstanding

If we mishear, we may get completely the wrong end of the stick. We hear something different to what was actually said.

  • We may hear "Send three and four pence, we're going to a dance" instead of "Send reinforcements we're going to advance."
  • We may hear "Do cross the road"; instead of "Don't cross the road."
  • We may hear the number "3,000" instead of "2,000".
  • We may hear the name of one type of medicine or dosage, when in fact it should be another.
  • We may hear that someone has had a quiet Christmas and reply how nice that must have been nice for them—when they actually told you it was quiet because their wife had passed away.

Whether it is a social faux pas or an instruction that could save someone's life, mishearing can have serious consequences. Even more troubling, we may not even be aware of what has happened. We just find that people gradually stop trusting us, or sharing with us, or depending on us.

Fortunately, in most cases, mishearing is preventable with routine hearing checks throughout life.