Mickey Mouse Theory of Communication

After years of rigorous research (well, make that “occasional observation and personal frustration”), I have developed a simplified model of interpersonal communication:  Diane’s Mickey Mouse Theory of Interpersonal Communication (with apologies to Disney). 

This theory answers basic questions about why we have conflict and misunderstandings.  Here is my super-scientific graphical representation of the theory:

Note that I have given more visual weight to people’s interpretation of knowledge than the actual knowledge they possess.  The reason for this is that I believe that most of our misunderstandings and conflict stem from differing interpretations, especially interpretations of intent.  It is all too easy to jump to conclusions about another person’s intent.  Have you ever had someone completely misjudge your intent?  I know I have!  Why does that happen?  It happens because the other person has interpreted your intent through his or her own filters based on:  experience, personality, gender, culture, etc.  We all view the world through our own filters, or framework of understanding.

I often recall a story told by Stephen Covey.  Mr. Covey was riding the subway one day when a man and his children boarded.  The man sat in the train, staring off into space while the children were acting up.  The father made no attempt to control his unruly children and finally, extremely annoyed by the man’s poor parenting skills, Mr. Covey mentioned to the father that his kids were bothering him and the other passengers.  The father replied that their mother had just died and he didn’t have the heart to discipline them.  That bit of information caused Covey to have a paradigm shift in how he viewed the situation.  He got a window into the father’s interpretation of the situation.

How can this model help you in your communications?  First, remember that you don’t have all the information.  Second, know that your interpretation of the information can be completely different than the other person’s.  Finally, be very cautious about assuming  the other person’s intent.  Instead of assuming, probe for understanding.  Ask questions.  Use the LEAP process for connecting instead of conflicting.

This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus:  How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect

The Respect Virus


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

7 Responses to Mickey Mouse Theory of Communication

  1. Marie says:

    I LOVE the way the theory is described using Mickey Mouse! I am currently working on a paper for school and this theory came to mind and I was having a hard time explaining it and this did it! Thanks so much!!!

  2. Pingback: The 3-Chair Method: Getting a New Perspective | Small Talk, Big Results

  3. Aryaning Arya Kresna says:

    this is great! thanks…..

  4. Walter H says:

    this model has some serious problems.The visualization of your theory states that there is interpretation of social situations, that is disjointed from one’s own knowledge of the situation. I think your terminology is off.

  5. Denese Ann Verches says:

    I will be using this theory to our reality show concept for our finals. Thanks for making this wonderful, helpful theory!

  6. Denese Ann Verches says:

    Hello! I would like to thank this theory for helping my group presentation become a success. And to you as well! For making this theory~!

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