5 Causes of Miscommunication at the Workplace

Published by Win Advisors on

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Communication is the key.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash 

Swedish vacuum-cleaner manufacturer Electrolux used a tagline in an American advertisement: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” Lost in translation, miscommunication can be hilarious – or have more serious consequences, especially in the workplace. It could result in conflict between colleagues and reduce their ability to cooperate and achieve goals as a team. This leads to a reduction in productivity which can be costly for businesses.

Miscommunication is also a common problem. American writer Dale Carnegie once said, “90% of management problems are caused by miscommunication.” Thankfully, this can be prevented. While the causes for miscommunication can be varied, here are the 5 common causes, and possible ways to prevent them.

1. Choosing the Wrong Medium

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” Different mediums can lead to different interpretations. A text message may be perceived as informal in contrast with an email, and this may affect our interpretation of the contents of the message. Furthermore, some mediums such as phone calls are synchronous – where an immediate response can be elicited – while others like emails are asynchronous.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, many workplaces are shifting towards virtual arrangements, which are asynchronous. To prevent ambiguity, work with your team to establish “communication medium norms.” Agree on what mediums will be used for specific types of conversations. It may also be helpful to have regular check-ins through a phone call or in person to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

2. Lack of Communication Protocol

A lack of communication protocol may result in miscommunication. Perhaps someone seeking technical support may be redirected several times if there is no clear point of contact. Or maybe the company did not assign someone to attend to the same client throughout, which may confuse both the client and the company. This can cause a bottleneck and potentially snowball into a bigger problem. Thankfully, this is easily preventable.

Setting a system and communication protocol can help streamline communication and prevent confusion. It is necessary to have comprehensive documentation of the workflow and processes to ensure that expectations are aligned. Additionally, providing regular status updates can serve as a check and balance, which is particularly helpful during crisis management. Of course, these systems are just guidelines – you need to ensure flexibility in exercising them!

3. Assumptions – False Consensus Effect

Assumptions occur when you accept something as true without question or proof. When your assumptions do not align with reality, miscommunication occurs. The false consensus effect is where people see their own behavioural choices and judgment as relatively common. You assume that the other person interprets things the same way that you do. However, your perception is shaped by various factors, such as your culture or environment. The way you convey a message also varies – some people are more straightforward, while others expect you to read between the lines.

It is important to be aware of the context and be more specific in what you convey. Being explicit reduces ambiguity. When conveying a message, provide a safe space for the receiver to feel comfortable enough to ask questions. If you are the receiver, consider the context of the information and read between the lines. Clarify when in doubt. No communication is also miscommunication!

4. Tone and Phrasing – Negativity Bias

Negativity bias is the mind’s tendency to perceive things as negative. To mitigate this, tone and phrasing can make a huge difference in the way your message is delivered. Instead of saying, “I’m feeling a bit bored in my role and finishing tasks quickly,” this can be phrased more positively as “I’d like more responsibility.”

Feedback is often subjected to negativity bias, and it could lead to miscommunication. To prevent this, framing feedback as questions can make it more palatable. The question “What would you do differently next time?” sounds less aggressive and can help team members be more open to feedback. Thanking your team members for their effort can go a long way and increase their receptiveness to feedback. If you are receiving feedback, taking a step back can help you attempt to understand the intentions of the person giving the feedback. It allows for mutual understanding and creates a more positive working environment. “It’s not you versus me; it’s us against the problem.” Having this mindset will create a more conducive working space for all to communicate with ease.

5. Lack of Empathy and Understanding

Being disconnected from the ground could lead to decisions that unintentionally compromise the welfare of employees. For instance, employees may be transferred to other departments without considering if they can fit in with the people and environment. This is counterproductive as it may reduce their motivation to work harder.

To prevent this, listen to your employees’ needs and practise empathy. Having empathy can increase employees’ productivity and improve talent retention. Most importantly, it can prevent miscommunication and misunderstanding!

In conclusion, communication is the key. Being willing to ask for clarity with communications that seem confusing will limit mistakes and build relationships among team members. To convey a message, learn to be crystal clear, so there is no room for misinterpretations. Implement clear communication and ask for clarity in your workplace culture, and you will see a decrease in office drama and an increase in productivity.

Do miscommunications often occur in your workplace? Try taking the above steps to resolve them!

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