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Poor Communication Kills

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"It is all that is left unsaid upon which tragedies are built."

According to many anthropologists, one of the turning points in human development was a growing ability to communicate. In fiction, one of the turning points in dramatic development is the inability (or, sometimes, downright refusal) to communicate.

In many stories, particularly those that rely on Dramatic or Tragic Irony, miscommunication and misunderstanding can often play a role in setting off or allowing bad things to happen. This often happens in mystery stories, such as where a murderer kills an innocent victim due to a misunderstanding, as well as in Tragedies, where poor communication is often the result of the characters' own Fatal Flaws, which lead them to commit Tragic Mistakes that pave the way for everything to go pear-shaped. This is also an all-too-common occurrence in Real Life, where many real life tragedies could have been avoided had the right people shared information that could have prevented them, but didn't for all kinds of reasons.

In order for this trope to work, the misunderstanding or miscommunication needs to have a reason to occur, best borne out of the natural characterization of the characters involved. A character who has a hard time trusting someone, for example, is more likely to dismiss that someone's explanation of what's going on out of hand than to hear the person out. Someone who is naturally shy or has No Social Skills may also have trouble getting their point across. A Horrible Judge of Character may implicitly trust a villain who wants nothing but bad things for him, and tend not to believe those who tell him of the villain's evil intentions. A Ditherer may refuse to speak up on something because it would mean having to make a choice one way or the other.

Basically, the miscommunication or misunderstanding should be borne out of flaws and behaviors that a character has had from the start rather than something that happened because the author needed a story to go a certain way and derailed the characters involved, making them hold the Idiot Ball. Alternately, if everyone in the story has unreasonably bad communication skills, it may be an Idiot Plot. Authors who pull this trope badly run the risk of straining the audience's Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Though similar, this trope does not include things like Selective Obliviousness, You're Just Jealous, or Sarcastic Confession, as those are failures to listen rather than speak (though listening is also a vital part of good communication).

NOTE: though the trope name includes "kills", no death has to happen. It's a pun: "poor communication skills" and "poor communication kills" — death does sometimes happen as a result of poor communication.

Compare Dramatically Missing the Point; Open Mouth, Insert Foot; Impeded Messenger; Doomed Appointment; Funny Phone Misunderstanding; Suspicious Missed Messages; Died in Ignorance.

Contrast: Just Eat Gilligan, Amnesia Danger. See Facial Dialogue for those times in which a character seems unable to communicate, but actually can get entire encyclopedias of information across with just body language and a twist of the eyebrow. When communication is impeded not by character flaws but because of an outside force, see Impeded Communication.

Works using this trope will often discuss The Power of Language.

This is a trope rife with major plot points by necessity. Spoilers shall be unmarked.

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    Common ways to NOT get the point across 

  • Abilene Paradox: Doing something that you don't want to do because you think everyone else wants to do it.
  • Acronyms Are Easy as Aybeecee: A character mishears or miswrites an acronym as if it's a normal word.
  • Angrish: A character is too angry to get their point across coherently.
  • Auto-Incorrect: Texts do not convey accurate information because the autocorrect disagreed with the sender.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: A character goes out of their way to not give someone useful information, usually due to lack of trust.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: A character misunderstands an unfamiliar word as an insult.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: The character purposefully keeps quiet out of conflicted feelings.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: A character's attempts to be humorous just leaves their audience bemused, bothered and bewildered.
  • Cassandra Did It: When a seer/psychic/time-traveler is proven right, sometimes, everyone will just assume they did it.
  • Cassandra Truth: A character who is never believed because their claims are seen as insane.
  • Contagious Cassandra Truth: If the "Cassandra" convinces someone else they'll have exactly the same problem convincing anyone themselves.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: When it's acknowledged In-Universe that this trope happened.
  • Crying Wolf: The dumbass has lied to them before, so they think he's lying again even when he's telling the truth.
  • Cryptically Unhelpful Answer: The answers to questions are cryptic. As well as unhelpful.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Being mysterious for the sake of being vague, this rarely helps the heroes get anywhere or stop the villains.
  • Cue Card Pause: An unfortunately timed pause completely changes the meaning of a sentence.
  • Culture Clash: Each character is quite certain that the other understands what is meant.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: How most people get tongue tied into being a Cassandra Truth.
  • Divided We Fall: Your friends allies regard you as a greater threat than their (and your) enemies.
  • Does Not Know How to Say "Thanks": When a character tries to express their gratitude to someone but has no idea how to go about it.
  • The End Is Nigh: No-one believes those crazy guys with sandwich boards anyway.
  • Friend or Foe?: You can't tell who to trust.
  • Grammar Correction Gag: A character writes something to another... but the only response they get is that their spelling needs work.
  • Headbutting Heroes: You and another hero do NOT get along.
  • Ignored Confession: If someone is impaired in any way, whatever revelation they say will be ignored. Even if it seems perfectly logical that it would be so.
  • Ignored Expert: A modern version of Cassandra, who has found irrefutable empirically acquired proof of doom that everyone refuses to believe.
  • Interrupted Cooldown Hug: Any time a non-violent solution against a nigh-unstoppable force seems likely, someone will shoot at it.
  • It Seemed Trivial: Someone keeps their mouth shut about a vital fact because they don't know how important that fact actually is.
  • Language Barrier: You cannot get your point across because you cannot speak the language of those around you and vice versa.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Why any two Super Heroes or teams fight in comic books. At least it usually gets sorted out fairly quickly once someone asks Why Isn't It Attacking?
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Keeping vital information from the hero, either for valid reasons or "just because". Rarely ends amicably.
  • Mathematician's Answer: You ask someone a question, and the answer they give you is completely correct and completely useless.
  • Metaphorically True: Telling the recipient something the speaker knows is not true, or at least mostly not true (and is likely very aware that the listener will take it the wrong way), but considers it justified as being true.
  • Mistaken Confession: A character confesses to something they weren't being asked about.
  • Moment Killer: A character who wants to get their point across is interrupted by another character.
  • Mondegreen Gag: A character mishears the words of another.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: Asking your superior to come see the problem instead of just reporting it the normal way.
  • Nobody Likes a Tattletale: Children won't tell adults about their problems, especially bully problems, because they're scared of being labeled tattletales.
  • No Listening Skills: Trying to tell this character anything is a fruitless endeavour.
  • No Longer with Us: Poor word choice causes one character to assume that another is dead.
  • Non-Answer: A response that superficially resembles an answer, but when looked at more closely, is not one at all.
  • Non-Verbal Miscommunication: When words are out of the mix, things tend to get worse. If only someone created a language based on making signs... still they'd find a way to mess it up.
  • Non-Voyage Party: Overhearing plans to throw a surprise party and thinking it's a farewell party.
  • Not Helping Your Case: The character falls under suspicion, and reacts in a way that makes him look even more suspicious.
  • No Time to Explain: An excuse for several of the following; considering how time works in movies, pretty much a non-excuse.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Silencing away children or allies when they have important news.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: This poor soul can't expose the Devil in Plain Sight. How infuriating!
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Two characters have a conversation, but each party is actually addressing a different topic than the other without realizing it for some time, if ever.
  • One Side of the Story: The result of several of these.
  • Otherworldly Communication Failure: A supernatural being is unable to communicate with a human, either because they accidentally terrify the human or they physically can't due to something related to their otherworldly nature.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Overhearing only part of an important conversation and leaping to the wrong conclusion.
  • Proxy Breakup: Alice wants to break-up with Bob, so she has Cindy do it for her. Hijinks Ensue.
  • Punctuation Changes the Meaning: Not correctly punctuating a statement changes its meaning, in many cases making it mean the opposite of what was intended.
  • Rage Against the Mentor: The result of heroes getting fed up with abstruse and cryptic mentors and allies.
  • Remember That You Trust Me: Some loners never let the Aesop stick permanently.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: A frustrated person expresses a wish they wouldn't really want to come true, but someone close to them takes it literally and acts on it.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: What happens when two groups who should be allies fight, simply because no-one bothers to find out which side they're all on!
  • Self-Offense: A character detects someone approaching and, thinking it's a bad guy, attacks. Of course, it turns out they just attacked their ally.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: When smart people Cannot Spit It Out because their language is too elevated.
  • Stopped Reading Too Soon: A character misses vital information stopping mid-paragraph.
  • Take Off Your Clothes: Asking someone to disrobe for non-sexual reasons and having your intentions misunderstood.
  • A Tale Told by an Idiot: A dimwitted character tries to explain a situation, but is not easily understood.
  • That Came Out Wrong: When someone utters a perfectly innocent remark, only for it to sound like something smutty.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: A result of some of these, usually from an initial lie being revealed.
  • Thought They Knew Already: A character causes problems by revealing something that they thought the person already knew, but they didn't.
  • Tongue-Tied: A character physically cannot tell anyone something important that will solve their problems easily because of some kind of magic or powers.
  • Tragically Misguided Favor: When you think you did something good for a person, but it turns out to be the worst thing that could happen.
  • Two Rights Make a Wrong: Two groups each put a plan into action without telling the other, with the result that neither is successful.
  • You Didn't Ask: Not sharing important information unless specifically asked to.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Very often in the disaster and horror genre, anyone who learns of the impending disaster in time to stop it loses the ability to not talk like a homeless schizophrenic.
  • You Know What You Did: A soap opera staple, the result of a loved one thinking you're cheating because of One Side of the Story. Worst part is the poor sap doesn't know what he did!

Example Subpages:

Other Examples:

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  • This Indian ad for the Suzuki Samurai bike shows a man who runs into a Japanese man next to a Suzuki Samurai bike. The first man asks the Japanese man several questions about the bike, to which he keeps replying with "no problem". The first man then asks if he can ride the bike, to which the Japanese man again replies with "no problem", and the first man hops on the bike and starts riding. Turns out the bike belongs to another civilian, and the Japanese man appears to be only able to say "no problem" in English.

  • Narrowly averted in Billy Birmingham's comedy album Still the 12th Man:
    Richie Benaud: Alright Security, take them out.
    Security: With pleasure, Mr. Benaud. (cocks gun)
    Richie Benaud: Not that kind of "take them out", Security! Take them out of the building!
  • Considered by Richard Wiseman's "Laugh Lab" as the world's funniest joke, there's a rather dark one about two hunters on a trip in the woods where one passes out unconscious. His friend calls 911 saying he thinks his friend is dead. The operator's instructions are "Okay, first thing is to make sure he's dead." There's a pause on the other end before a gunshot is heard, with the hunter coming back and asking "Okay, now what?"
  • There's a joke about a man driving along a winding road in the country. A woman drives past him from the opposite direction, sticks her head out the window, and yells, "PIG!" The offended man yells back, "BITCH!" Then he drives around the next corner and crashes into a large pig that was standing in the middle of the road.
  • In a Norwegian anecdote often used to teach children about the importance of comma, an innocent man is about to be exeuted. The judge who realized the mistake sends a message to stop the execution saying "Drep ham ikke, vent til jeg kommer" ("Don't kill him, wait until I'm there"), but misplaces a comma so it says "Drep ham, ikke vent til jeg kommer" ("Kill him, don't wait until I'm there").

    Comic Strips 
  • 9 Chickweed Lane, Official Couple Amos and Edda broke up mostly because she wouldn't tell him what was upsetting her (his dreamy ramblings about the concert violinist they'd watched) and it never occurred to him A) to ask what was wrong or B) the answer might be him. They do reunite... without ever actually resolving the issue that split them up. This has become a running theme in Edda and Amos' relationship: Edda reacting to an emotional moment by freaking out and bolting, then cluing Amos in long after the fact (and then only when a third party points out the inappropriateness of her actions).

    Fairy Tales 
  • "The Death of Koschei the Deathless": If Marya had just told her husband why he shouldn't open the closet, Koschei the Immortal would have not escaped from his imprisonment, kidnapped Marya and killed Ivan when he attempted to rescue his wife. Fortunately, Ivan's brothers-in-law are able to use their magic to revive him.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Bad Guys (2022), gang leader Mr. Wolf has an incident during the Golden Dolphin heist where he accidentally saves an old woman from falling, he's praised for his deed and experiences the good feeling from doing good. Worried about how his friends would react, he elects not to tell them. Professor Marmalade exploits this to make the gang believe Mr. Wolf was willing to abandon them in search of a better life, leading to their nasty falling out in the prison.
  • A Bug's Life: Almost literally in this case. Because P.T. Flea isn't in on the plan to scare away the grasshoppers with a fake bird, he believes it's real and sets it on fire, nearly killing everyone inside and exposing the ruse to Hopper.
  • Cars 2: The film's plot revolves around Mater being mistaken for an American secret agent, and the various conflicts and misunderstandings that occur as a result.
    • During the Tokyo race, Mater tries to have a conversation with Holley over his headset while still on the line to McQueen, which distracts the latter and causes him to lose the race. When explaining himself afterwards, Mater mentions hearing Holley's voice in his head, which makes Lightning assume that Mater's "girlfriend" is imaginary, making him even angrier.
    • While Holley shows some doubts about his methods during the mission, she and Finn wholeheartedly believe that Mater is the real agent. Even when Mater has no knowledge about intel he supposedly collected, causes constant setbacks for their mission and even tells them outright that he's just an ordinary tow truck, Finn believes that Mater is just being extremely dedicated to his cover story, which leads to him being Innocently Insensitive when he later compliments Mater for playing an "idiot tow truck" so well.
    • During the climax, Mater realizes that the Lemons strapped a bomb to him in order to kill Lightning; and he desperately tries to drive away from McQueen while the latter tries to apologize for their earlier falling out. During the chase, Lightning interprets Mater's various warnings as simple words of regret, not realizing what's actually going on until he sees the bomb for himself.
  • Pretty much the entirety of Chicken Run would have not only been avoided, but they'd have escaped years ago had any of the hens actually bothered to listen to any of Fowler's ramblings. It's not until late in the movie that they even ask what the R.A.F. or "the old crate" was, and learn it was the Royal Air Force and a flying machine. Fowler on the other hand always assumed they were listening to him, and is genuinely surprised none of them know what either of those things are, as it's implied he's been going off about both for as long as he's been there. He's also quite surprised when he learns that they assumed he was the one flying said machine; he'd thought it was obvious that the RAF didn't let chickens pilot planes and only learns Ginger had planned to have him pilot their airship when it's ready to fly.
  • The entire immediate conflict of Coco happens because of Miguel's mistaken belief of the identity of his great-great-grandfather.
  • In Encanto:
    • Many bad things that happen to the Madrigals, such as Bruno leaving, the Casita crumbling, Mirabel feeling like a misfit, can be traced back to poor communication among the family members. Everyone is trying so hard to follow Alma's directive that the family needs to show they are worthy of the miracle that they aren't able to share honestly that the effort and stress is causing individual members to falter, feel exhausted or feel pigeon-holed into roles they aren't sure they want to play anymore.
    • Bruno "ruining" Pepa's wedding is revealed to be this. The former was genuinely trying to joke and lighten the mood for the latter but it ended up backfiring horribly.
  • In Flushed Away, Rita sarcastically tells her brother Liam that turning in Roddy to The Toad is a great idea, but then scolds him for the idea. Roddy only overhears the first part, leading to him stealing the Jammy Dodger and abandoning Rita.
  • Frozen (2013):
    • Anna gets struck in the head with Elsa's ice magic, so the sisters are separated for thirteen years to keep Anna from getting harmed again. Due to Anna's memories of the incident getting erased, she has no idea why Elsa shuts her out. A lot of the film's conflict (especially regarding Elsa's glove and the major argument between the two sisters over Anna's impromptu engagement to Hans) might have been avoided if Elsa or their parents had just told Anna about Elsa's powers when they felt she was old enough. One gets the idea that Elsa was ordered specifically not to tell her, and it seems to be suggestednote  that had they not been killed prematurely, they may have had a point in time where they were going to tell Anna something along the lines of "we had to isolate you from Elsa because she has this ability to make ice that she is unable to control".
    • The trolls have no idea how to help Elsa gain control of her powers — only that she shouldn't let fear control her. Ironically, they are coincidentally love experts, which is exactly what helps Elsa gain control of her powers.
  • A Goofy Movie:
    • It's Principal Mazur's extremely exaggerated warning to Goofy about Max's behavior that sets Goofy on the idea of taking Max on vacation in the first place. If he'd taken even a moment to get Max's side of the story, or at the very least put the vacation off for a week, a whole lot of pain could have been avoided.
    • Goofy and Max's entire relationship can be summed up as this too. Max spends most of the movie mad at Goofy, and neither one actually takes the time to just talk directly about their problems until near the climax of the film, when they're about to careen over a waterfall because of it. Once that happens, the two are much closer and end their conflict completely.
  • In Inside Out, Joy and Sadness focus on waking Riley up while Fear is on dream duty, but the other emotions have no idea that they're doing this to get back to headquarters and Anger and Disgust chastise Fear for waking Riley up during a nightmare. Anger comes up with a plan to make Riley run away.
  • In The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour, Cosmo and Wanda refuse to tell Jimmy Neutron that magic is real in their universe in order to protect The Masquerade, which leads to Jimmy accidentally exposing them to Timmy's Arch-Enemy Mr. Crocker and giving him the means to Take Over the World.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part goes about this in a rather silly way. The Good All Along "villains" outright tell the protagonists what they plan to do, but the protagonists are under the impression that they're lying. It doesn't help that the villains used to run on Blue-and-Orange Morality (being "controlled" by a younger sister who was once a toddler), which means that the protagonists tend to shoot first whenever it comes to an actual fight and then mistake defensiveness as aggression. Consequently, genuine changes of heart get mistaken as brainwashing, and a genuine Sugar Bowl is interpreted as a Crapsaccharine World. This gets lampshaded pretty hard later on.
  • All over the place in Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. Stitch never properly explains that his spasms are completely uncontrollable, Lilo never asks why Stitch has been freaking out and wrecking things, and most importantly Jumba and Pleakley never tell anybody that Stitch is malfunctioning. In fact, they even make it a point to keep it a secret for reasons they never explain. If even just one of these characters communicated a little better, the entire plot could have been avoided. Especially annoying because both Lilo and Stitch have plenty of times where they should have nothing better to do but discuss what just happenednote , and yet somehow they just don't. Lilo can maybe be excused because she's only 6 or 7 years old, but Stitch is supposed to be as intelligent as a supercomputer.
  • In The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, Melody is never told why she's not to go beyond the seawall. This becomes extremely problematic once Melody finds her grandfather's gift to her. She's also never told that Morgana is dangerous, and this allows the witch to manipulate Melody very easily.
  • The Man Called Flintstone: Secret agents contact Fred Flintstone and send him on a mission to capture the Green Goose. They don't bother to clarify that the Green Goose is a dangerous criminal, so Fred agrees because he thinks he's been hired to capture a rare bird. Naturally, when he learns of the Green Goose's true nature, he is terrified.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack wants to understand Christmas, so he makes off with a large bag of stolen holiday goods and runs experiments on the holly berries and candy canes. If actually speaking to the denizens of Christmas Town was ever attempted, we never see it.
  • In Over the Moon, if Chang'e had been slightly more patient with Fei Fei, Fei Fei could have had a chance to explain the gift Chang'e was seeking is most likely at Fei Fei's crashed rocket site and easily narrow the search. However, Chang'e becomes quickly irritated that the children don't know what she is talking so she sends all of Lunaria on a mad hunt, leaving Fei Fei and Chin, the only two people who know about the crash site, behind in the dust.
  • ParaNorman:
    • Little girl Aggie had no idea how to explain her ability to see and speak to the dead in terms that her accusers could see in any way except "witchcraft". In trying, she basically admits to being "guilty" and dies for it. The result is a curse that causes Judge Hopkins and his jury to turn into zombies, doomed to wander the streets looking for a way to properly pass on.
    • Old Mr Prenderghast clearly had decades during which he could have written out detailed instructions for whoever took over the task of keeping the witch asleep. Indeed, that information probably was in his study. But, being rather insane, his collection of information is a tangled mess that only makes sense to his irrational mind. He also seems to assume that Norman already knows what to do and just needs to be pushed into doing it.
  • Jack from Rise of the Guardians is guilty about this halfway through. After the other Guardians think he betrayed them, all he would have had to say was "I found Pitch's lair, and the tooth fairies." Instead, he just stutters and mumbles, and doesn't defend himself. The circumstances might have stopped it from being a get out of jail free card, but it would have helped.
  • In Shrek, after Lord Farquaad chooses Fiona as the princess he wants to marry, the Magic Mirror attempts to warn him about the "little thing that happens at night." However, Farquaad is so caught up in his own celebrating at being able to call himself a king that he cuts the Mirror off before he can explain. Had he let the Mirror finish, he would have learned that Fiona was cursed to turn into an ogre every night until she kisses her true love. Though in the case her true love being the fellow ogre, Shrek, she ends up just staying an ogre full-time anyway.
  • In Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man 2099 deliberately kept Miles Locked Out of the Loop, which results in him almost destroying Spider-Man: India (2004)'s universe. Miguel then lays the blame for this at Miles' feet, even though he was the one who refused to tell him how things worked until it was too late.
  • Strange Magic: If the Bog King had let the Sugar Plum Fairy explain why the love potion didn't work when he tried to use it on the girl he was in love with, he and everyone else would probably have been much happier for it.
  • The Sword in the Stone: Wart unsuccessfully tries to explain the red girl squirrel that he's actually a human, but due to the fact that she's an animal who clearly does not understand human words, she misinterprets him as being shy and continues making unwanted gestures of affection like hugging and kissing. Once he does turn back, she's confused and heartbroken, only now likely understanding that he wasn't returning her love for him.
  • At the climax of Tangled, just as Eugene and Rapunzel are about to kiss, the former saw the Stabbington Brothers waiting in the shore and in order to keep Rapunzel safe, he decides to head on shore to give the tiara to them. However, since he does not tell Rapunzel of their presence (whom she previously saw attempting to kill them), she is led to believe that Eugene truly abandoned her for the tiara, which traumatize her enough that led to Gothel successfully regaining hold of her to return to the tower.
  • In Turning Red, Mei’s first transformation would have been significantly less stressful if her parents had given her the ‘panda talk’ beforehand. Ming’s explanation for waiting is that she didn’t expect the curse to effect Mei until years later. There’s also an implication that Ming was traumatized by her own experience with the curse, and wanted to avoid the subject for as long as possible.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: A lack of communication is the catalyst for the entire plot of the movie. Fix-It Felix, the protagonist of the game, is a good guy who genuinely tries to be courteous to Ralph, the game’s main villain. However, he's unable to be an effective mediator between Ralph and the Jerkass NPCs of their game, which is what causes the confrontation that leads to Ralph leaving the game. Also, Felix simply has no frame of reference for how horrible Ralph feels. This means that, since Ralph never tries to communicate his feelings to either Felix or anyone else in their game, he has no way of knowing that Ralph isn't happy. Even the fact that Ralph is homeless can be blamed on a lack of communication. If he had asked, or even implied, Felix would have certainly taken the thirty seconds out of his day to give Ralph a house. He never did, because he legitimately thought that Ralph was happy where he was.
    • To be fair though, Felix isn't really innocent in this department either since he never socialized with Ralph at any point when they're off duty, which could imply that since the Nicelanders disrespect Ralph even after the arcade closes, it's likely Ralph saw Felix as no different and saw no reason to try and speak to him.

  • Used quite Anviliciously in the song "One Tin Soldier". In it a town has a "treasure" hidden under a mountain, which a valley kingdom covets. They invade, kill everyone, and find the "treasure" is just a plaque which says "Peace on Earth". Worse, when they first demand it the mountain people make a vague offer to share their treasure with their "brothers" instead of just telling them the truth.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman covered this topic in "Still Called Today," which stresses the importance of making the wrong things right before it's too late.
  • This trope is one of the problems in "Tyrant" by Disturbed.
    There's so many things that I wanted to say
    But the love turned to hate we kept pushing away
    And the words that came out turned it into a mess
    And it's like pulling teeth 'cause you'll never confess
  • The breakup in "The Story Of Us" by Taylor Swift happens because "Miscommunications lead to fall-out." And then, she wishes to reconcile: "I'd tell you I miss you but I don't know how!"

  • Narrowly avoided in the Thrilling Adventure Hour episode "Custard's Last Stand". Vague comments by Ginny West cause everyone present to believe she is going to hard reboot Gork the robot for having unauthorized emotions. A standoff ensues until Ginny reveals she was actually updating Troubleshooter records on Gork's model so another Troubleshooter wouldn't come along and hard reboot later. After everything settles down, Ginny reveals she had assumed Sparks Nevada knew what she was planning. Sparks quickly explains that he did not. The two take it as a sign that they need to get to know each other better.

  • Staple of the humor of The Men from the Ministry: poorly worded notes end up causing havoc, telephone-conversations are misinterpreted due to being heard only from one end and out-of-context and instructions aren't laid out properly leading to big misunderstandings among other things.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted: Lytek, God of Exaltation, who's known for a very long time about the Great Curse, has utterly failed to tell anyone else about this for 2000+ years. By this point, if he does tell anyone, it's likely he'll be mined for starmetal.
  • Hunter: The Vigil: In theory, hunters and the Forsaken have a fair bit of common grounds and shared goals — both are generally interested in combating the worst excesses of the supernatural and safeguarding the material world. However, they are far more likely to fight and kill one another than to cooperate or even talk due to persistent failures in communication. Hunters usually see werewolves as just one more kind of monster and only rarely think to try to actually talk to them; the Forsaken, in turn, tend to be insular, violent and incommunicative, and mostly consider humans to be annoyances to be chased away from important matters. This has led to a vicious cycle where werewolves have come to see hunters as dangerous and ignorant menaces while hunters have learned that trying to approach werewolves is useless at best and very dangerous at worst. Notably, one of the primary reasons why Les Mystères have been duped into being patsies for the spirits against the Forsaken is that spirits, unlike werewolves, will actually try to contact mortals and try to make them see things their way.
  • Reign: One of the Fluff asides involves an instance of Nonverbal Miscommunication that rises to this level — the mercenary commander had a troop of mixed nationality that each knew one of three different sets of military hand signals; he'd only bothered to check that they all knew hand signals, not that they all knew the same ones. His signal to "hold up" was variously interpreted correctly, as an order to attack, or as an order to retreat, and they were routed in the chaos resulting.
  • Rocket Age: Ganymedians didn't realise that human prospectors couldn't survive being separated from their organs, so their first attempts at taking prisoners went badly.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Slaans mage-priests who command the Lizardmen sleep most of the time, and when they wake up they speak in very short sentences without any context. As a result, unpleasant things have happened. When the High Elves arrived in Lustria, they were brought before a Slaan who said, "They should not be here". His Saurus guards read this as "Destroy all High Elves" and killed them. Whether he actually meant "Send them home" will never be known.
    • The conflict known as the "War of Vengeance" by the dwarfs and the "War of the Beard" by the elves hinged on the dwarfs not knowing about civil war that split the high elves and the dark elves and consequently being easily fooled into blaming a dark elf attack on the high elves, and the high elven king arrogantly having the dwarfish ambassador beaten and shaved for perceived disrespect instead of hearing him out, which could have uncovered the ruse (or at least prevented a devastating war).
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Damn it, Emperor. Do you have any idea how much trouble you would have saved if you were only able to occasionally explain stuff to your kids? The Horus Heresy, for one. Simply adding "I have fragile crap under construction down there" to his sorcery prohibition would prevent Magnus from acting like a moron — between a working webway, alive and loyal Thousand Sons and the fact that most of humanity's knowledge of Warp is a handful of crumbs from Magnus's table, the setback could be minimized even if Horus Heresy happened anyway.
    • Another tidbit comes from the Horus Heresy, where Guilliman calls out his brother Alpharius on his conquests of several worlds, citing his own record as a model. Because Guilliman never explained why he was showing this to Alpharius (he was angry over how Alpharius' tactics caused enormous unrest on the worlds the Alpha Legion captured that often lasted for months after a conquest), Alpharius thought that Guilliman was simply rubbing his victories in his brother's face, which was a contributing factor to the Alpha Legion falling to Chaos.
  • Xiangqi: There is an uncertain story about that says that the General (analogous to the king in western Chess) was once called the Emperor, until the actual Emperor passing by a game overheard two players discussing killing or capturing the Emperor and misunderstood them. Heads rolled, and the General name stuck.

  • Gilbert and Sullivan were also fond of this trope, but they actually hang a lampshade on it in the Act I finale of The Mikado, when Katisha tries to tell the people of Titipu that Nanki Poo is the son of the Mikado, only to have the chorus interrupt her every time she opens her mouth.
  • William Shakespeare seemed to be fond of this trope.
    • Romeo and Juliet sees Juliet faking her own death, and the message to Romeo explaining the situation never reaches him, causing Romeo to kill Paris and commit suicide. Upon discovering this just moments after Romeo dies, Juliet also kills herself.
    • Discussed in Bells Are Ringing, where answering service girl Ella tries to explain to a policeman that "my job is to get messages to people on time" and imagines herself at "Veronaphone" passing Juliet's message on to Romeo.
      "See what I could have done? Maybe I'm right! Maybe I'm wrong! But if I'd got that message through on time, I'm telling you—THOSE TWO KIDS WOULD BE ALIVE TODAY!"
    • Othello was easily swayed by Manipulative Bastard Iago to believe his wife had been cheating on him and kills her. Only when it is too late does he realize that if he had bothered to verify the truth with anyone other than Iago, the stories wouldn't have matched up. Emilia at least was smart enough to figure out what was going on.
  • In The Glass Menagerie, Tom doesn't tell Jim that the dinner he invited Jim to serves the purpose of introducing Jim as a suitor to Tom's sister, Laura. Jim is engaged to be married.
  • In Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Lovett deliberately invokes this trope when she remarks that Sweeney's wife, Lucy, poisoned herself after Judge Turpin sent Sweeney away on a trumped-up charge and then brutally raped her. While Lucy did in fact poison herself, she didn't die—instead, she lost her mind and became the homeless, taunting Beggar Woman. Even at the very beginning of the musical, the Beggar Woman seems to recognize Sweeney ("Hey, don't I know you, mister?"), and had Sweeney taken some time to speak with her—or even looked more closely at her—he might have realized who she was and kept a lot of innocent people, and Lucy herself, from dying.
  • In Wicked, the entire subplot involving Nessarose, Elphaba's younger sister, centers on this. In the first act, Glinda tries to stop Boq, a Munchkin hopelessly in love with her, from getting on her nerves by pairing him with Nessa. Boq's too much of a Nice Guy to tell Nessa what's really going on (although he does try), and Nessa, who's in a wheelchair and has never been shown any affection from the opposite sex, immediately decides that they're meant to be together. This leads to all sorts of disasters, including Nessa becoming the Wicked Witch of the East (she takes over leadership of Munchkinland after her father, the governor, dies and strips the Munchkins of their rights to keep Boq close to her) and Boq becoming the Tin Man when she screws up a spell designed to make him fall in love against his will. Heck, the whole situation indirectly brings Dorothy to Oz when Glinda (who's angry at her fiancee for leaving her for Elphaba) tells the Wizard and Madame Morrible that the witch's one weakness is her sister.
    • The above "fiancee" situation is another example. Fiyero is initially a Brainless Beauty and thus a perfect match for Glinda, but it isn't long before his more sensitive, activist side begins to emerge. He never clearly tells Glinda that he isn't the same party animal that he used to be, and as a result, she doesn't (or wills herself not to) see that he's no longer in love with her.
  • Elisabeth:
    • Franz Joseph's inability to communicate/mediate between his mother and wife causes much consternation. It arguably causes the death of little Sophie, because if there hadn't been such a rift between Sophie the elder and Sisi, the Empress might not have insisted on her daughters accompanying her to Hungary.
    • Sisi's unwillingness/inability to understand Rudolf's desperate situation is the last straw that drives him to suicide. The Japanese productions have her explicitly misjudge the situation as only political, and one Rudolf can get out of on his own because he's an adult capable of handling things maturely - making her more sympathetic than merely turning him away because she has cut her bonds with the Emperor.
  • 35MM: A Musical Exhibition: The narrator of "On Monday" doggedly pursues a new romantic interest, who sometimes seems receptive, but other times ignores her. Aside from telling her to "play hard to get" once, they don't explain their hot and cold behavior until she asks them straight-up what's going on, doubting that they even like her. They then explain that they do like her, but she's rushing things and they want to take things slow. She happily agrees to this and admits she was coming on pretty strong, meaning that a lot of strife could've been easily avoided had the love interest just told her to slow down from the very start.
  • Speaking in Tongues: Nick claims that he picked up Valerie in his car and agreed to give her a lift home, but when he took her down a back road shortcut that she and her husband didn't know about, she panicked and fled the car into the bush, most likely to her death.
  • Theatre/Carousel: Billy and Julie have trouble expressing their feelings for each other, presumably because both of these young people have been hurt in the past. That's one of the things that causes so much trouble for them, causing Billy to lash out at his wife because he can't open up to her or let her know how much he loves her. Julie, for her part, can only say it to Billy after he dies. Their big song together, "If I Loved You", is about how neither of them can express their love to each other directly, and Billy's reprise (when he returns to earth from the afterlife) is about his regret that he never told her that in his lifetime.
  • The plot of Dear Evan Hansen only happens because of a misunderstanding. As an assignment from his therapist, Evan writes a letter to himself. Connor bullies Evan and takes the letter from him. After Connor takes his own life, his parents find the letter on him and assume that Evan was Connor's friend. When they approach him, Evan (who has anxiety and is really bad at social interaction) attempts to correct the mistake by shouting 'Connor didn't write this!', which they interpret as him being in denial over Connor's death.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney has this problem a lot. Vague letters or notes with no clear addressee on them are the most common culprits, although the entire backstory of "Bridge to the Turnabout" could have been solved by good communication without anyone dying. One of the principal bad communicators even laments that he could have avoided the entire problem by just telling Phoenix about Morgan's plan (or at least destroying her letter before anyone else could read it), but his issues surrounding Dahlia and Mia's death cause him to succumb to Complexity Addiction and create a scene where he would kill Dahlia to save Maya, which resulted in Misty's death as she was channeling Dahlia.
    • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Most of Phoenix's problems in the timeskip could've been avoided had Zak Gramarye revealed that he had the page ripped out of Magnifi's diary during his trial. Phoenix was tricked into presenting a forgery of the page as evidence in court, resulting in his disbarment and disgrace. When Zak finally tells him about it, Phoenix laments that he could've told him that seven years earlier.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Several characters have this bad.
    • Byakuya Togami remains aloof from the other students and only interacts with them when forced... and then gets pissy when they don't trust him enough to tell him things.
    • Makoto's usually a fairly good communicator, but he falls into this trap in chapter 4 when he refuses to tell anyone that he saw Sakura confronting Monokuma as he's worried that it would be tantamount to accusing her of being the traitor without any evidence.
    • Kyoko has a really bad habit of wandering off on her own and never telling anyone what she's doing, which naturally makes the other students see her as suspicious even though most of the time she's just exploring. Hypocritically enough, she gets really pissed off at Makoto for keeping the above from her... although after the class trial, she's cooled down enough to acknowledge that she overreacted and apologize. When she has a Jerkass Realization at the start of chapter 6, she does start cooperating fully with Makoto and tells him everything she knows.
  • In Shion's route for Star Struck Love, Kujo never explains to the heroine the reason why she should stay away from Shion. This leads to her believing that he's a terrible person and Shion locking her in a motel room.
  • Phantom of Inferno. The whole problem with Cal in Act 3 could have been completely averted if Reiji had just told her how happy he was to see that she was still alive instead of keeping it in monologue and being defensive and confrontational at every given opportunity for no particular reason. Cal even prompts Reiji to tell his side of the story several times in hopes that he'll give her an excuse to back down.
  • As with the anime, School Days has this down to an art form. Love triangle aside, a large portion of the conflict comes from Makoto never telling anyone other than Sekai that he and Kotonoha are dating.
  • Nasuverse: The tragedy of Saber in Fate/stay night as well as Saber of Red in Fate/Apocrypha. Arturia was immensely focused on serving Britain as the best king she could be. When Mordred reveals that she's Arturia's son (it's a long story) and wants the throne, Arturia rejects her and remains distant from her. Mordred takes this as Arturia hating her and lashes out by building a rebellion against Arturia while Arturia is busy chasing down Lancelot after the Guinevere affair, which eventually leads to Arturia and Mordred committing a Mutual Kill at the end of the Battle of Camlann, the defining moment of the fall of Camelot. As we learn from each other's respective sides of the story, Mordred only wanted the throne because she genuinely wanted to relieve her father of the burden of her royal duties and Arturia was essentially Married to the Job (she didn't think that anyone else was capable of ruling Britain competently, especially not the Hot-Blooded Mordred) in addition to being understandably uncomfortable with a child she wasn't aware of and didn't consent to having with her half-sister archnemesis as well as just being distant to everyone in general, even to her Knights. Of course, Mordred's mother Morgan le Faye engineered much of this intentionally to destroy Camelot; Mordred was always her weapon against Arturia, and she was careful to only reveal Mordred's parentage at the worst possible moment.
  • In The House in Fata Morgana, all of Jacopo's problems stem from the fact that he just won't talk things out with people. Behind Door 3, he won't talk to the White-Haired Girl to clear up the misunderstandings about the letter and learn that Maria was fucking with both of them the whole time, and behind the final door (as well as the prequel, A Requiem for Innocence), he does nothing but make the situation worse and worse with his refusal to talk to people after he becomes the lord. He doesn't talk to Gratien about his inability to help the slums yet (though granted, Gratien never gave him much of an opportunity), he doesn't explain to Morgana that he's not the original lord and that he never meant for her to get hurt when he captures her, and he doesn't explain his problems to Maria when she tries to assassinate him believing he was always the self-serving piece of shit he acts like he is.
  • a letter of challenge: The mysterious girl wants to befriend the protagonist, so she summons her with a letter and creates a barrier only magical girls could enter to talk to her. The protagonist ends up thinking that the mysterious girl wants to fight her. The mysterious girl, instead of simply explaining her intentions, turns back time, as she feels like she has messed up her only chance to talk to the protagonist. Had the mysterious girl simply explained that she wanted to be friends instead of turning back time, the entire conflict could've been avoided.

    Web Animation 
  • Happy Tree Friends: In "Who's to Flame?", Petunia's house catches on fire. Mime attempts to get help from the fire department, but he chooses to mime the actions rather than speak, causing no one to understand him. This leads to the fire getting out of control and consuming the entire town.
  • Helluva Boss: Blitzo and Stolas are in a transactional physical relationship where Blitzo has monthly sex with Stolas in exchange for borrowing Stolas's grimoire for his business. Stolas is head over heels in love with Blitzo, but has No Social Skills and mainly expresses his affection through sexually explicit or unwittingly condescending flirting, made worse by the overwhelming difference in status and power. It's heavily implied that Blitzo has grudgingly developed feelings for Stolas but feels trapped by his relationship with the prince, fearing intimacy as much as he craves it. Additionally, Stolas's aggressive, very horny advances make Blitzo think that Stolas only sees him as a living sex toy, and when Stolas is too humiliated to respond when Asmodeus publicly declares that he gave up his nuclear family to sleep with a lowly imp, Blitzo is further convinced that Stolas doesn't really care about him. Further compounding the misunderstanding is the reveal that it was Blitzo who aggressively seduced Stolas for the grimoire the first time they had sex, implying that part of why Stolas lusts after Blitzo so openly is because he thinks it's what Blitzo wants.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: When Kitten is forced to exchange his caretaker post with the Fab Custodes, he leaves just before the Emperor wakes up and asks for explanation. Dorn could've set things straight, but doesn't say a word, the Fab Custodes lie about the true reason, and when Magnus go to ask Kitten about the truth, he tells the heartbroken Custodian that the Emperor doesn't care for him because he (Magnus) is finally done with the Emperor's shit. It was literally two seconds that ruined everything. A later episode reveals that this is a gambit on Emp's part, and Dorn isn't in on it but does see it for what it is.
  • Hunter: The Parenting, by the same creators as the above, has its Emperor-analogue, Big D, suffer from this. He does have his reasons; as discussed in the second audiolog, vampires are deadly serious about maintaining The Masquerade, and if any of his family even let slip that they know basic vampire terminology like the names of their clans at the wrong time, an agent of the Camarilla might hear them and have them Killed to Uphold the Masquerade ( The third audiolog shows that he's not wrong to be worried; the police officer who interrogates them after the first arc is a ghoul). He also sometimes has trouble understanding that others might not share his thought-processes; he didn't tell Marckus about Diablerie because he expected that Marckus would already have assumed that vampire+vampire= super vampire. Marckus, who did not in fact assume that, instead tried to test what happens when vampires feed off each other experimentally, resulting in Pyotr being able to gain enough power to break free.
  • RWBY:
    • Ruby defies the trope after she and Weiss' initially disastrous pairing in Volume 1. She interrupts Weiss's attack strategy against a Beowolf by appearing out of nowhere and slashing it right in front of her; Weiss is forced to awkwardly divert her momentum and inadvertently sets the forest on fire to avoid hitting Ruby. Weiss angrily calls Ruby out for her lack of communication, but Ruby dismisses it because she hasn't yet learned how to fight with others. By Volume 2, Ruby has learned and become very organised at developing team strategies and attack combinations for her team to use in battle.
    • After a history of being abandoned and betrayed, Ozpin hides the Awful Truth from even his closest allies. Ironwood secretly conspires with Vale's council to strip him of Vytal Festival's security, Yang warns him she'll only support him if he stops hiding things, and all the heroes turn on him when the truth finally comes out. How he handles this information can make allies vulnerable to Salem's machinations and Theodore thinks he fails to prepare people by coddling them. In the Atlas Arc, Oscar reveals Ozpin is terrified of destroying hope after Ruby leads the heroes into repeating his mistake with Ironwood; Ozpin and the kids reconcile once Ozpin faces his mistakes and the kids acknowledge just how risky trust can be.
    • In Volume 9, Ruby is left heartbroken and depressed over losing Atlas, the relics, and worst of all Penny. She is pressured into keeping her suffering a secret from her team, who barely notice her despair until she snaps at them and runs off. Yang is angered she didn't just talk to them about her pain, but Weiss counters their attempts to give her confidence and hope with pep talks only increased her burdens and made her repress them. This ultimately led Ruby to being tortured by Neo and pushed to a Despair Horizon event and commit a form of suicide. One can't help think if both sides just confided in one another this situation could have been avoided.

    Web Original 
  • Parodied in "5ever". A girl asks her boyfriend if he will love her forever; again, he says no, and again, she runs away and dies (this time she's struck by a car). When he finds her corpse, he explains that he didn't plan on loving her forever — he was going to love her fiveever, which is apparently more than "four"ever.
  • Deconstructed heavily on the Dream SMP. This is a common problem throughout the server, which causes many, many conflicts and a lot of friction between the characters. For two of the most egregious examples of this trope in the series:
    • Wilbur's unreliable exposition in the letters to his father, Philza, led him to embrace anarchy and help bomb Wilbur's legacy, L'Manburg, into a gaping hole to bedrock in the Doomsday War. Ghostbur, Wilbur's spectral counterpart, proceeds to call him out on his Well-Intentioned Extremism.
    • Karl refusing to tell others about his time travelling-induced memory problems caused him to forget to invite his fiancé Quackity to Kinoko Kingdom. This turns out to be the last straw for Quackity, triggering his relationship trauma and causing him to spiral heavily, which ends up having huge ramifications on both his views and actions on the SMP. Meanwhile, Karl himself begins to grow resentful, eventually coming to the conclusion that Quackity had received the invitation and rejected it, and left to build his own country.
  • Life SMP: The Boogeyman curse of Seasons 2 and 4 functions like a geas, where the assigned Boogeyman has to kill another player by the end of the session, or have their life prematurely shortened. This quickly becomes a primary source of tension in the series.
    • In Season 2, much of the intra-faction conflict on the server is caused by a player refusing to inform their allies of their Boogeyman status, and subsequently resorting to betray their own faction-mate to rid themself of the curse. This in itself has resulted in the fracture of the Fairy Fort faction and tensions among the B.E.S.T. faction. On the other hand, in the instances where a set of allies are honest about their status and refuse to kill anyone from their faction, things tend to end on much more civil terms.
    • Mostly defied in Season 4, however, as most factions have instated a policy of being honest about their Boogeyman status, and if a player turns out to be the Boogeyman, their allies are not only made aware of this, but often actively conspire to help their cursed ally commit their mandatory murder.
  • Mirror World: Most of the conflicts that occur within the story happen because none of the four Houses are capable of just sitting down and rationally talking to each other. This leads to lots of accusations and false claims of violence when most of the story's "antagonists" just want to live in peace. Even the supposed Big Bad is nothing more than a deity that was tired of being lonely and wanted to play with its "ants" in its "ant farm," but failed to simply tell anyone this until after thousands perished.
  • Parodied in "The Poptart Tragedy", a So Bad, It's Good story (most likely deliberately awful) about a boy and girl. The girl wants some Pop-Tarts, and asks her boyfriend to get them. When he returns, she tells him that she's pregnant and asks if he'll stay with her boyfriend. When he says "no," she cries and runs away — but without eating the Pop-Tarts, her blood sugar lowers and she tumbles to the ground, somehow dying. The boyfriend then reveals that he said he wasn't going to be her boyfriend because he planned on proposing, thus becoming her husband. Listen to the heart-rending tragedy narrated here.
  • Of all the things this could refer to in SCP Foundation, you wouldn't think it would be the SCP itself, but it has happened. SCP-2703 is a horned, tentacled griffon-thing, but she's also a polite and classy lady who just wants to have platonic dinner-dates and see shows with humans. Unfortunately, she chooses to advertise these things in ways that seem like prostitution (apparently she never realized what "For a good time, call..." in Bathroom Stall Graffiti refers to), and as such she's apparently had a bad experience with a would-be "friend".
  • In Chapter 19.2 of Worm, Skitter explicitly recalls and sets out to defy this trope when talking to Weld and Miss Militia about Calvert:
    Skitter: I'd always hated those parts in the TV shows and movies, where everything could be resolved with the simple truth. It was why I’d never been able to watch romantic comedies. It grated: the sitcom-esque comedic situations which would be resolved if people would only sit down, explain, and listen to one another, the tragedies which could have been prevented with a few simple words. I didn't want to be one of those tragedies.


War on Lone Moose

The town of Lone Moose and Whippleton have a treaty where it mentions if Lone Moose builds something on Whippleton's territory (in this case, Vera purposely moving her fence five feet over their border), they have the right to declare war on the town.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / SillyReasonForWar

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