Five types of workplace miscommunications (and how to fix them)

By Hannah Massen 

Ask couples what the secret to a happy marriage is, and nine times out of 10, you’ll get the same answer: good communication. 

The same is true for workplace relationships, where communication is key to working as a team rather than as a bunch of individuals that are paid by the same company. But for all the good that proper communication can do, poor communication can cause just as much harm. Missing a message, accusations, or failing to get everyone on the same page, can derail projects, lose clients, or worse – damage relationships between coworkers. 

Miscommunications can throw an otherwise well-oiled organization into chaos, but understanding where they come from can help you clear things up before it’s too late. Here are five common types of miscommunications and ways to fix them.

The poorly written email 

Written communication is just as important as its verbal counterpart – especially with more people than ever working from home. So if your directions or requests aren’t entirely clear, don’t be surprised when your coworkers come back with the wrong document or a PowerPoint that isn’t quite, well, on-point. If you’re writing a long, detailed email, scope document, brief, or list of directives, have a coworker look it over before you send it to the entire team to help you spot the holes you missed. Another aspect of avoiding these types of miscommunications can’t always be established in one email, and usually takes years to build: your approachability. Consistently remind your team that you’re here to help if they have questions so that they know they can come to you when something’s not clear. 

The surprise responsibilities

Anytime you charge your team with a task, you need to set clear expectations for not only what the result should be, but how every person on that team will contribute. The same goes for job descriptions, in general. For example, how will your social media content creator also know that they’re responsible for running analytics reports unless you tell them? Be specific, or you may be disappointed. 

The misleading word choice 

Even in a workplace where everyone speaks the same language, words and phrases might mean different things to different people – especially if you’re in a jargon-heavy industry. Make sure that new hires are familiar with industry terms during their onboarding process, or offer definitions in emails or presentations. If you feel like someone misunderstood the point or intention of something you said, try to rephrase the message at least one other way to clarify what you mean. This can feel redundant at times, but you’ll learn more about how your coworkers interpret your phrasing and might save you some conflict down the road. 

The blame game

Speaking of conflict, no one likes to play the “blame game.” Even a little “he said, she said” can create tension in the strongest teams, which is why you should avoid making unproductive accusations. Your coworkers should feel like they can own up to their mistakes. Create a culture where people can take responsibility without fear of losing their jobs. 

Radio silence 

No communication is a miscommunication. If you fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room, that’s a recipe for business disaster. So, no matter how ugly or frustrating the issue at hand is, talk about it. If it’s not clear who’s tracking down your next inventory order or whether or not a customer’s issue has been solved, don’t just let it slide and hope for the best. Ask.

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