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how miscommunication happens animated video

Pick Of The Week: How Miscommunication Happens (Animation)

Whether at home or in the office, do you find yourself frequently colliding with moments of miscommunication? With so many diverse ways to interact these days—and the increasingly diverse backgrounds of those interacting—it’s almost hard to imagine that miscommunication, in some form, isn’t part of everyone’s daily lives. But why does it happen? And, more importantly, what can be done to minimize its frequency? These are the questions that lie at the heart of our PICK OF THE WEEK: an insightful animated video aptly titled How Miscommunication Happens

How Miscommunication Happens is a Ted-Ed Original based on a lesson by Katherine Hampsten, the Assistant Chair of English and Communication Studies at St. Mary’s University. In this video–beautifully animated by Andrew Foerster, a freelance artist based in Toronto–she describes why miscommunication occurs so frequently, and how we can minimize frustration while expressing ourselves better.

Here’s the animated video:


  • Animation by Andrew Foerster
  • Narration by Addison Anderson
  • Sound Design by Weston Fonger
  • Script Edit by Amy Adkins
  • Lesson by Katherine Hampsten

3 Things We Loved About This Animated Video

1. Recurring Action: In most animated films (as with movies and television shows), the narrative is constructed as a sequence of scenes. A to B to C to D and so on and so forth. But what’s interesting about this animated video is how frequently it re-joins previous scenes and then presents us with new types of action. For a video like this, which presents why something happens (from a couple of different vantage points) and then ultimately offers a solution, this is an incredibly effective way to demonstrate how alternate actions can lead to progress.

For example, let’s take the recurring scene where two characters play a game of catch. We are first introduced to this situation at the 1:11 mark, which demonstrates an example of very poor communication (where the character just walks away after tossing the ball)

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We then return to this scene at the 1:31 mark, where we are presented with a successful, give-and-take game of catch.

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Then again, at the 2:10 mark we return to our game of catch. This time, though, we are asked to imagine the ball as a lump of clay, which is then shaped by both participants.

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And then finally, we are brought back to this scene on last time at 2:59.

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Scene repetition has little value on its own, but what makes it work so well in this animated video is how well it is used in each case. Since one of the short’s primary theses is about the importance seeing things from different perspectives, this technique becomes a great way to accomplish that and continually build upon the central narrative threads.

2. Universal Accessibility: As we mentioned in the first sentence of this piece, miscommunication is something that happens to all of us, often many times per day. But how it happens and why it occurs is something that differs on a person to person basis.

As a result, this animated video is faced with a difficult task: how to translate something that is so often anecdotal in a way that feels universal. But it’s a challenge that this short handles with skill and aplomb. How do they pull it off?

One strategy is by using abstract (and cacophonous-looking) objects to visually depict disagreement. This is a common thread throughout the video.

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Another way this is accomplished is through the facial expressions, which is particularly impressive given the limited detail of each character.

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And lastly, another way that accessibility is achieved is through reaction. Because while we all might experience different forms of miscommunication, the physical behavior is relatively similar.

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3. Solutions! Since the animated video is called How Miscommunication Happens, it’s not necessarily clear that the filmmakers are going to provide solutions for how one might improve miscommunication. In fact, midway through this video, i started to worry that the video was merely raising concerns that were somewhat unaddressable. But to my pleasant surprise, the final portion of the film is devoted to providing a series of strategies and solutions to minimize the miscommunication in our lives.

Like recognizing that passive hearing and active listening are not the same. So engage actively with the verbal and non-verbal feedback of others and adjust your message to facilitate greater understanding.

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Like listening with your eyes and ears, as well as with your gut.

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And also like taking time to understand, as you try to be understood. In short: remember that communication is a two-way street.

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Not only was it satisfying to hear solutions like these proposed, it helped pace out the conclusion of the video and make the message feel more meaningful and complete.

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