Effective communication between people can be challenging. Sometimes, this is not obvious at all. Invisible or well-hidden challenges can be particularly vexing. The illusion of communication illustrates this well.

a group of people having a meeting
Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Briefly, the two terms to get started:

  • Illusion – a false idea, false belief, misinterpretation of the senses. Distorted vision.
  • Communication – the exchange of information

So then, what does that mean here?


The illusion of communication refers to the false belief that effective communication has occurred, i.e. a person mistakenly believes that they have clearly communicated information with someone.

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

Interestingly, it is also true that experiencing this illusion typically also means not realizing the illusion is taking place!

When either party resists suggestions of problems in this respect, then their illusion might perhaps be more precisely categorized as a delusion.

There are different possible factors:

  • Externals – Environmental factors matter. Perhaps the transmission was actually disrupted or drowned out by noise or conflicting information.
  • PerceptionWe don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.
  • Bias – Related to the above, biases (for both communicator and audience members) will affect how information is communicated, perceived and interpreted. Of course, we also have blind spots about our blind spots.
  • et cetera

This is clearly also related to the curse of knowledge, not truly understanding the audience’s understanding enough. As such, you may assume too much background information and understanding or use terms they are unfamiliar with. You may then well say exactly what you meant to say and finally fully believe that you communicated what you wanted to — and they still did not understand.


Being subject to an illusion about something means you are not seeing the thing the way it is. How much does that matter? It depends.

  • Clarity – If it is not clear, then what is true? People find themselves filling in the blanks, making assumptions.
  • Decision making – Effective decision making suffers, when we cannot see clearly, or when people inadvertently use the wrong information.
  • Productivity – It is more difficult to get the right things done, particularly as a team, when there are important gaps in communication and collective understanding.

Obviously, these can also take a toll on a person’s reputation or introduce strains into relationships.

It is worth caring about this.

In short

The illusion of communication is the false belief that communication has taken place. It is a blind spot that blurs your view of reality.



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