In our interactions with others, miscommunication is inevitable. Whether it’s with coworkers, loved ones, or partners, we’ve all experienced moments where we thought we were on the same page, only to find ourselves caught off guard or confused. Miscommunication can be hurtful, invalidating, and can hinder the building of close connections and trust in relationships.

The impossibility of not communicating

The psychologist Watzlawick coined “The impossibility of not communicating” to explain how we find ourselves in these predicaments. Communication Theory posits that every action we engage in, even in times when we are purposely seeking inaction, sends a message to those who we are interacting with. There are two functions of communication: the “Report Function,” which is purely the words being spoken or the message being sent, and the “Command Function,” which is the context in which the message is delivered, including how it was said, who it was said by, what their relationship is to the message receiver, and how that influences the interpretation of the report function.

For instance, imagine hearing the message “Do you want to see the new Spiderman movie?” from both a close friend and a boss. The report function is the same, but the command function is different. Between friends, it’s a bid for connection and an appropriate activity to do together. However, between an employee and employer, it may be an inappropriate overstepping of work boundaries, mired in a power dynamic. The message carries with it the context of one’s employment, the employee’s level of comfort saying no, and the possible fear of repercussions at work.

It’s important to remember that the report function can also be the absence of words, which, in tandem with the command function, can once again send very different messages to the other person in communication. As human beings, we unconsciously interpret our experiences and the world through a constant dance between the report and command function of communication.

To foster deeper understanding with those in our lives, it’s imperative to address how we communicate with one another and utilize effective communication strategies, such as those outlined in other blog posts here on building strong relationships. By slowing down, paying attention to the context and delivery of messages, and actively engaging in mutual understanding and empathy, we can correct misunderstandings and build stronger connections with those around us.


  • Smith-Acuna, S. (2010). Systems theory in action: Applications to individual, couple, and family therapy. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Watzlawick, P., Bavelas, J. B., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies and paradoxes. WW Norton & Company.

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