Miscommunication is a relatively common issue in the workplace. It may develop as a result of ineffective communication, which results in misconceptions and animosity on both sides of an issue or topic.
It has the potential to be damaging to both workers and businesses.
According to business professionals, the following are examples of workplace miscommunications and how to resolve them:
Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary
Leadership Coaches | Authors, “Bridge the Gap: Breakthrough Communication Tools to Transform Work Relationships From Challenging to Collaborative“
Social disconnection, political polarization, and general malaise
Communication is a messy business. Words can create clarity and disaster—from healing wounds and clearing up misunderstandings to blasting zingers and poking bears. Nobody truly knows how words will land.
Despite their best intentions, even the best communicators and connectors struggle and fail.
As many of us return to the office or in hybrid work environments, our communication may become clunky. In these last two years, everyone has changed due to different experiences, including social disconnection, political polarization, and general malaise.
Miscommunication is bound to happen – because we are all human. The “human suit” that we all wear tends to be highly reactive: it easily takes things personally and makes up stories, especially when we feel awkward, negative, and/or defensive about our opinions.
Related: How to Not Take Things Personally
You may get your feelings hurt, become confused by someone’s behavior or attitude, and find yourself in a breakdown.
Your human suit needs attention to prime itself to show up optimally. How can you manage yourself and your conversations to best communicate and connect with people in the workplace?
Be sure you are personally as healthy and aware as you can be
It all starts with you. As a contributor to the relationship, you have a choice about how you show up. Focus on being optimal with your mental, physical, and spiritual health—it goes a long way in being connective.
Optimizing your brain and mind’s ability to perform exceptionally when under this stress is crucial.
- eating well,
- getting sleep,
- drinking water,
- taking breaks for lots of fresh air and exercise,
- and commit to practicing gratitude.
Be sure to have a support system outside your office, where you can process your worry or concern without censorship. Your health is a determinant of how well you can manage and communicate well through this return-to-work season.
Acknowledge that our brains and ears are meaning-making machines
We all wear a pair of headphones that “interpret” information and judge it to understand how it impacts you and others.
To avoid breakdowns, zero in on the quality of your listening.
Be aware of your biases, agendas, perspectives, and judgments and choose to suspend them in service of the relationship. Place aside external and internal distractions, such as smartphones and watches, and your mind’s chatter and desire to interrupt.
Remember, listen and silent have the same letters — close your mouth and open your ears.
Ask simple open-ended questions as opposed to agenda-driven questions
Start sentences with “tell me about” to open the other and speak about what’s top of mind for them. They often will share details that are meaningful to them, and that’s where you can better understand what’s important in their perspective.
Minimize the pressure of asking too complicated questions. Often too much emphasis is placed on language to do the hard work. Quality communication and collaboration begins before you speak.
Show up with a clear and self-imposed mandate to be present, and listen and speak with others using curiosity and care. Phrases like “tell me about” and “share with me tend” to yield great interactions.
Show compassion when communication goes sideways
Our human suit is a complicated piece of machinery and can be quick to judge. Why? When communication is unclear, our bodies become uncomfortable and signals to our brain that “trouble” is brewing.
This “worry” hits your prefrontal cortex, and then hijacking hormones attack your brain’s ability to:
- process creatively,
- collaborate effectively,
- and communicate openly.
The uncertainty of what is happening is fueled by a biological chemical cocktail that often sends the brain to fight, flight, or freeze mode, impeding your ability to be present, to listen, and be curious.
To communicate best, interrupt your judgment by becoming radically curious and taking a deep breath. Ask:
“What do I need to know or explore here, to better understand what is actually happening and how I might use my evolved thinking as opposed to defensive thinking?”
With self-awareness, you can gain control of your cognitive thinking by breathing in through your nose for five seconds and exhaling out your mouth for five seconds. Repeat several times.
By doing this, you are optimizing your executive function, allowing your brain and tongue to gain control over potential breakdowns.
Miscommunication will happen at work, especially with people who are different from you. You can choose to access these tools to change the energy and outcome of the conversation.
Most of the time, it takes just one willing person to bridge the gap between breakdown to breakthrough.
Your professional relationships are worth learning these intentional skills. It takes a special kind of fortitude to look in the mirror and assess how you are engaging with people in these times.
Not tailoring your communication to your audience
You’re giving a presentation at work, and one minute into it, you look up and see half your audience checking Instagram. This is workplace miscommunication at its worst because not only are you not communicating effectively, and you’re not even connecting.
The solution? Tailor your communication to your audience.
Everyone fits into one of twelve learning and communication profiles (aka Inner Genius Archetypes), and they’re easy enough to tap into and energize others with, whether it’s piquing interest by hitting someone with the facts right up front or inspiring another when you tell them a story to communicate the big picture.
Most people blindly communicate in the way they want to be communicated to— that’s the mistake. Leaders tailor their communication to other people’s learning and communication preferences and get the desired results each and every time.
Talking about yourself incessantly
Remember the presentation where the leader began by talking about herself, the activities she did that morning, and the great restaurant she was at the night before, never previewing the benefits and advantages of what she would be presenting, and everyone was in rapt attention? No, we don’t either.
One of the most annoying examples of workplace miscommunication is assuming your co-workers want to hear about every detail about your life. Talking about yourself drains energy, wastes time, and inspires no one (not even your cat you keep talking about).
So knock it off, command the room, capture attention right up front, and lay out your plan innovatively and powerfully.
Founder, JFlinch | Author, “People Solve Problems: The Power of Every Person, Every Day, Every Problem“
Taking problem statements for granted
A team is sitting in a meeting and talking about something that goes wrong. The leader of the group states that someone needs to take on solving the problem, and one person volunteers. Everyone is now happy because we’ve decided to take action and have an owner.
As that person begins to work on the problem and has further conversations, everyone seems to have a different angle on what the problem is. Pretty soon, the problem owner realizes that everyone has a different view on the problem statement of what was assumed to be obvious.
This is one of the core causes of miscommunication, misalignment, and general disagreement. We take problem statements for granted.
I can almost guarantee that if the team that all agreed that there was a problem were to write down what they thought the gap was, they would get as many answers as they have people.
Investing the time in agreeing on the problem statement gap that is to be closed is one of the best efforts for avoiding miscommunication and misalignment.
Business Development Lead, EasyMerchant
With remote work as the new standard post-COVID 19 outbreak, we are learning how easier it is for miscommunication to take place among teams working together virtually.
The risk of miscommunication is heightened by the lack of tone, body language, and other non-verbal cues that face-to-face communication offers.
Variable perceptions on the urgency of emails
Emails, being the main communication in a remote work setting, tend to cause misunderstanding among workers with varied perceptions of its urgency.
Since instant messaging applications like Viber, Telegram, or Slack are available, some people tend to think emails are not as urgent.
On the other hand, other members simply consider emails as the more “formal” form of communication; hence, they prefer to send emails regardless of the urgency. This results in some members missing deadlines despite being told via email.
To address this kind of misunderstanding, virtual teams should consider making it a standard to supplement an email request with an instant message or a phone call to reinforce the urgency of the message.
Instant messages do not always mean urgent
On the other side of the spectrum, some managers may also inadvertently lead their colleagues to think that they are expected to respond urgently to instant messages. This is even magnified by the fact that employees working from home find it difficult to clock off.
Although it is understandable for managers to clarify or reinforce instructions via instant messages, it is best to do so only within office hours.
It is also best practice to always verbalize the time you expect to receive feedback from your recipient to avoid misunderstandings.
Misconstrued meanings of punctuations and jokes
Using an exclamation point can actually cause big misunderstandings since emails are devoid of the sender’s tone.
Similarly, inside jokes and sarcasm among onsite employees who discussed a topic in the office may offend their remote worker counterparts who weren’t present when the joke came about.
These seemingly simple things can significantly affect the team’s productivity and teamwork, so it’s best to be mindful of punctuation use and to keep inside jokes and sarcasm out of group communication as much as possible.
Director of Marketing, Syntax Integration
Difference in perception
When you and the individual with whom you’re conversing understand the same thing differently.
Consider the following scenario:
Michaela was aware that Jared was putting in long hours on the major project and wished to convey her gratitude. During the monthly company meeting, she singled him out and presented him with a memento honoring his commitment to the firm.
While Michaela thought it was a great expression of thanks, Jared was ashamed that he received the award instead of the full project team. He was also concerned that his teammates would dislike him.
Misunderstanding someone’s message
You could misunderstand someone’s message if you overlook a nonverbal cue they’re giving you.
Consider the following scenario:
Hans used a direct tone and maintained constant eye contact with Pei during the negotiations. She was unfamiliar with Hans’ communication style and thought he was being forceful in his approach.
When you communicate to someone in a certain way, they read it via a cultural lens, which may distort the meaning or divert their attention away from your argument.
Consider the following scenario:
Marco was attempting to communicate to his boss Mila that his team was running late for the project deadline. When Mila inquired if the team would be able to turn in the project, Marco avoided stating “no” immediately since he felt uneasy doing so.
He avoided eye contact and continued, “We’re working hard.” Mila was left with the assumption that the job would be completed on schedule.
Attorney, Inc and Go
Workplace miscommunication may seem like a nuisance issue to some, but it can sink your productivity— and your bottom line— faster than many people realize.
Miscommunication is easier when you’re not talking face-to-face
The pandemic has made this aspect worse. When you are in the room with a person, you can see their facial expressions and body language. You can hear their tone of voice. Phone calls and Zoom give you less information, and e-mail even less than that.
These tools sow more miscommunication in the workplace than any other.
Cultural barriers are more common than you think, and they aren’t just international
We tend to envision cultural misunderstandings between people from two different countries. But there are more factors at play. For example, a litigation attorney is likely going to be a stickler about deadlines and punctuality, while a teacher may focus more on feelings.
When those two professionals interact, the different areas of personal emphasis can cause a lot of friction.
The best defense against miscommunication is regular contact
If your co-workers talk to you on a regular basis, they’ll be more likely to see you as just another person rather than a function of their stressful workplace.
The feeling of understanding and camaraderie that can arise from even a daily five-minute conversation can get you a lot of credit when you potentially goof up an important e-mail.
Here are a few examples of miscommunication in offices and how to solve them:
It takes two to communicate
This is the biggest misconception many bosses deal with today. Employees often believe they can make their intentions clear in one email or phone conversation. However, this doesn’t always work out in practice.
Every communication should be seen as an attempt to reach an understanding. Therefore, it’s vital employees are open to clarifying their messages and understanding how they were processed.
Poor time management skills
This is a common source of office miscommunication: not everyone has the same priorities and values as you do. People choose to spend their time differently, and that’s fine until bosses start giving specific tasks at specific times.
The best way to ensure people stay on track is to schedule regular standup meetings with your employees. In those meetings, you can discuss everyone’s priorities and compare them to what was planned.
You should then find a compromise where everyone’s time is respected, and good results are achieved.
If you have too many tasks for the number of employees you have, your team might feel overwhelmed and become less productive. I’ve seen this happen too many times.
To prevent it from happening again, always keep track of the progress made by your employees and make sure they’re all on top of their responsibilities.
You can achieve that through weekly meetings where everyone reports on their accomplishments to the rest of the team.
“You don’t value my input”
Some employees feel overlooked by their superiors, and they might lose interest in what they do at work.
According to my personal observations, this is often a result of poor communication from managers who forget to ask for feedback and encourage participation among subordinates.
The solution I recommend is to schedule one-on-ones with each of your employees.
During these meetings, you can talk to them about their ideas and opinions so you can work together on transferring those into actionable tasks.
Founder, Effort Wise
Using messages or email when a real-time conversation is needed
One of the most common types of miscommunication comes from using messages and email when a real-time conversation is needed. It can turn into a passive-aggressive interaction that would otherwise have been pleasant and productive.
Here’s an example from one of my clients who is an analyst.
She once created a report template that others would use to generate a report by specifying a variable (e.g., new customers) and a date range (e.g., Nov. 1st to Dec. 1st). She also made a multiple-page “tip sheet” on how to use the template.
My client got an email from a coworker in a different department saying that the template wasn’t working and describing the problem.
My client tested out the template herself with the coworker’s specifications, and it worked, so she wrote back.
- “Could the issue be…?”
- “Maybe try…”
- “Check the tip sheet, page 6.”
“Yes, I tried that. The problem’s not…” but it was clear that she did not actually do what my client suggested and did not read the tip sheet.
My guess was that she didn’t understand my client’s instructions, and she didn’t want to read the tip sheet, and she wanted to move past the whole thing without any extra effort.
In the end, they went through almost ten emails back and forth to solve the problem.
There were two things we worked on as a result of this episode:
- Make much simpler tip sheets. My client had tried to cover every possible scenario of using the report template, so it was very long. This is why her coworker did not read it.
- She could have avoided the entire episode if she had taken 10 minutes on a call with the coworker to teach her how to use the template personally.
My client did this with the next person who emailed her with an issue. The interaction was easy, and it gave her valuable information to make the template more usable.
Founder, The Impact Investor
Firstly, feedback is a very important step in communicating ideas to employees regarding their performance. This enables them to analyze their output, and apart from this, positive and negative feedback can give added encouragement to them to keep investing their efforts consistently.
Despite such a source of motivation, feedback can often go wrong too. This is in the cases where it is intended to be extended one way. However, it is perceived very differently.
For example, consider this:
A team of employees has worked on a single project together, and it is time for their supervisor to provide feedback comments to each in a group meeting.
The employer outrightly praises most of them very highly. However, one of them, although praised, the degree of praise is somewhat lesser. While trying to be sensitive with respect to the choice of words, the supervisor points out one part of the project that the individual could have given some added attention to.
Although the employer meant to be constructive with their criticism, the employee may perceive a sense of shame and insult in retrospect to their colleagues.
This may also damage their self-esteem and future productivity and/or social relations in the workplace.
Digital communication or messaging
Secondly, digital communication via software applications such as WhatsApp, Slack, Discord, and other social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have complicated matters in some sense too.
This has even been more so since the onset of the pandemic, as that has resulted in a tenfold increase in reliance on these platforms. Despite enabling communication and connections to form within seconds, this speed and ease of access come as a double-edged sword.
Firstly, it permeates the urgency culture. The wide range and swiftness of accessibility lead to an unreasonable extent of expectations that others should be able to respond to your messages within minutes, or at most, hours.
The same culture has taken over the corporate workplaces too.
Supervisors expect their subordinates to respond urgently, even during their non-working hours. This creates a gap in expectations as employees rightfully respond the next day when their working hours resume.
Employers can take this personally and deem it as a sign of disrespect or lack of commitment. This often creates rifts between the worker and their boss.
Founder, Express Dentist
The most common ones are verbal, nonverbal, and email
There are a few different types of miscommunication that can happen in the workplace. Some of the most common ones are verbal, nonverbal, and email.
Verbal miscommunication can happen when two people are talking to each other and they do not understand each other. This can be due to a language barrier or due to not hearing something correctly.
A good example would be if someone has a thick accent, and you misunderstood what they were saying to you.
Nonverbal miscommunication can happen when two people are talking to each other using words, but the way that they act conveys something different from what their words are. This often happens because of body language.
For example, if someone was angry while they were speaking to you, even though they did not say that, then it would be nonverbal miscommunication.
Email miscommunication can happen when someone misunderstands the tone of an email or when they misinterpret the content.
An example of this would be if I sent my coworker an email saying one thing, but they perceived it a different way than what was intended.
PR Manager, Condo Control
Differences in backgrounds and perspectives
Working for either a small or large company has one thing in common: they both have employees. Employees come from all different backgrounds with different perspectives on how they perceive their world.
However, when you take a multitude of different people into a work environment, there is bound to be some miscommunication that takes place.
That can appear as asking someone to do a task and the other individual completes that task incorrectly or does another task thinking that was the task they were assigned.
Assumptions without asking for clarity
Another example of miscommunication is when a staff member assumes what the other staff member requires without asking for any clarity. The intention was there, but the communication for clarity was not.
Here are some tips we can improve communication in the workplace:
- When someone asks you to do a task, a good way of understanding that task is reiterating the task you told them, so you understand what is needed.
- Asking questions when you are unsure of what you need to do; it never hurts to double-check and clears things up before any problems happen.
- Make sure you are calm and collected, and level-headed. Nothing can be achieved in understanding each other if the other is not willing or able to listen to that communication.
Miscommunication frequently happens in the workplace; however, it can be improved by implementing the aforementioned tips. Most of all, communication takes work and the ability to listen and fully understand each other.
Founder, Cloud Law Firm
Not adding a specific time and date to any project you pass along to others
This is something we’ve had to get better at— and I’m sure could be improved in law offices around the world.
Oftentimes, we’ll pop by someone’s desk and ask them to complete a task for us. Many times, we won’t put a specific time or day we need this task to be done, and no one thinks of it until crunch time.
Fast forward a few days, and you’re asking yourself, “when is that going to be done!” But if the person you asked to do the task doesn’t have a hard date in mind, then it’s not fair to expect anything specific from them.
We need to be better at putting days and hours into our projects, and this is a common miscommunication in the workplace. Open-ended assignments are already set up for failure for both sides.
Communication is clarity, so be sure to add a specific time and date to any project you pass along to others, and if you’re the one getting assigned something, make sure you ask for a specific time and day.
Founder and Owner, Hypernia
Miscommunication creates more uncertainty, lost hours, and upset feelings at work than nearly any other sort of cultural divide. Miscommunication occurs when individuals or groups connect, but one or more of the participants does not fully comprehend what is said or written.
Because the majority of miscommunications go undetected, conversations and even projects can go on for a long time without anyone recognizing that they are referring to completely different topics.
In the workplace, miscommunication occurs. Managers and supervisors are usually the worst offenders, despite their responsibilities to set objectives and communicate frequently.
Here are some examples of miscommunication in the workplace:
Having an insensitive manager
At work, your employees are likely to feel a variety of emotions. When coping with those feelings, make sure to flex your empathy muscles. Before you plan your next communication item, put yourself in their shoes and listen.
This is when you form your own opinion based on a fact; however, your opinion may or may not be correct.
When you communicate to someone in a certain way, they read it through a cultural lens, which may distort the message or distract them from your message.
The Economist poll revealed something that many individuals are naturally hesitant to discuss in the workplace: varied objectives and levels of comfort with technology.
Approximately one-third of millennials place a premium on the process in the workplace. Still, roughly the same amount of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers place a premium on creating human connections and forging personal relationships.
While one-third of millennials use social media and texting, only approximately 12% of older generations do.
Easily jumping to conclusions
It’s a rare day when an employee admits to making assumptions and drawing conclusions without first checking with someone “in the know,” but it happens all the time, both in written and verbal communication.
A prime example is a manager who mentions “breeding efficiency” and an employee who interprets the words as code for “layoffs,” when the manager could be referring to the need to be more efficient with the supply of office copier paper.
It’s bad enough when misconceptions are permitted to fester quietly; when an employee promotes erroneous beliefs to others, the situation becomes far worse.
As you can see, there are possibilities for miscommunication to occur, as well as numerous possible problems that can result.
Keep the examples of miscommunication above in mind, and attempt to identify differences in communication style on your team, whether you’re working together in person or remotely.
By knowing how to recognize miscommunications and their causes, you can avoid them and prevent the wasted time and hurt feelings that they can create.
Miscommunication can cause an increase in workload, reduce productivity and even damage working relationships. The effects can be particularly damaging in the workplace, where a breakdown of communication could result in costly mistakes and lost revenue.
Below are some examples of miscommunication in the workplace:
Failure to listen attentively
If you’re not listening attentively, you’re missing half of the conversation. Other workers might feel that what they have to say isn’t important or that they aren’t being heard. In addition, misunderstanding their directions can lead to errors that waste time and resources.
Not asking questions when necessary
When you don’t ask questions when necessary, it can cause confusion and other problems. By asking questions, you gain a better understanding of what is needed, so you know exactly how to proceed with a project.
There is no need to feel embarrassed about asking questions; it’s actually encouraged in many workplaces due to the fact that it helps avoid confusion and errors.
Bypassing a decision-maker
A junior employee might bypass his superior when delivering bad news to a customer. The employee might not want his boss to know about the issue, or he may simply want to solve it himself without involving anyone else.
This type of miscommunication can upset the customer and make him feel that you are not willing to take responsibility for mistakes.
For example, if a junior sales associate tells a client that there’s been a change in delivery times without consulting her supervisor first, the client may feel as though she’s being lied to or that the company is unreliable.
Using ineffective communication channels
If you’re sending an important email, you might want to double-check that you’ve sent it to the right person.
Emails and text messages are easily misinterpreted because they lack facial expressions and body language as well as vocal inflections, so they are often better for short, simple messages.
If something needs more explanation than a few sentences, you should probably have a conversation instead.
Use clear language in all written and verbal communications
If you ask an employee to do something and they don’t understand what you mean, they could make a mistake that costs your company time and money down the road.
Mismatch on understanding the scope of work and division of tasks
This happens a lot when there is no call, and the translation purely happens via chat or email messages. The items get lost in translation.
The lack of emotional cues or body language may mislead another person to assume coldness or detachment or lack of enthusiasm for the work or tasks.
At its worst, the scope of work differs in interpretation for each team, and the targets are not met, and subsequent conversations may be in conflict or have some dissatisfaction for some parties.
For such cases, some agenda or decision points need to be discussed in a call or even in person if possible.
In case this miscommunication occurs, the way to remedy it is to have a black and white, specific, and clarified action plan for the tasks and not just general items.
Same goal but clashing in strategy or execution
People can argue passionately but have the same ultimate goal. There can be clashes on how to go about achieving the goal because of differing backgrounds or mindsets.
A more aggressive employee or executive will strike while the iron is hot, while more risk-averse executives will work on protecting the company at all costs over sending out risks.
A simple project may be a point of disagreement for people coming from different perspectives. To remedy this, a good meeting halfway or democratic decision-making is essential.
CEO and Founder, The Upper Ranks
Employees commonly make assumptions, which contributes to workplace misunderstanding. It’s important to stand back and evaluate what employees say. Even if their remarks are harsh, they have importance.
This is why business executives must read between the lines. When anything goes wrong at work, it’s tempting to blame others. People don’t always know their duties on a project. Maybe there’s a lack of accountability in management.
In any scenario, a lack of responsibility can lead to misinterpretation.
Nobody sets out to be a bad communicator. No one intentionally misinterprets facts. Miscommunication stimulates a defensive mechanism. As a leader, you must energize your soldiers and motivate them every day. You must link an employee’s job duties to the company’s objective.
Poor leadership is another source of workplace misunderstanding. Their duty is to inspire their workers to be more productive and innovative. Uncertainty and demotivation can result from bad leadership.
Lack of emotional intelligence at work
Lack of emotional intelligence at work is another important cause of bad communication.
Workers with high emotional intelligence form strong bonds. They operate as a team, which means they communicate well. Leaders must also improve their emotional intelligence to build a business culture that strives to improve communication at every turn.
Be aware of your tone. Empathy does not equal sympathy or patronizing your employees. Treat your staff as grownups and see how miscommunication goes away.
Co-Founder, Camino Adventures
When things are implied or insinuated and not said out loud
From my experience, most miscommunication in the workplace occurs when things are implied or insinuated and not said out loud or written in an email.
I worked in a company where I had coworkers from Ireland, the UK, and the US. One would think that poor communication wouldn’t be a problem as everyone is a native English speaker, but it was.
For instance, an Irish coworker would reply with, “Ah, sure, you may as well” to a “yes” or “no” question, leaving their American coworkers confused. But, to the Irish coworkers, that was a resounding yes.
While indirect or subtle communication is important socially, it can be a problem in the workplace, especially if it is a multicultural environment. Some people may not catch things, and it can leave them feeling frustrated when there is work that needs to be done.
When managers send out work-related news or updates only to a handful of employees
Another common problem in the workplace is when managers send out work-related news or updates only to a handful of employees, expecting them or relying on them to communicate the information to their coworkers. This was a problem in a few companies I used to work at.
In some workplaces, this can lead to people deliberately avoiding sharing information with their coworkers, or some employees pretending not to have received information and blaming their mistakes on others.
Almost every time, the information does not reach everyone, leading to a lot of confusion.
Important changes, updates, etc., should always be sent out to everyone in written form as well as communicated orally.
Tina Hawk, SHRM-SCP, sHRBP, SSHR
SVP Human Resources, GoodHire
The phrase “It’s best if I just handle this myself”
Workplace miscommunication occurs most often when we say something that reflects the result of a problem rather than address the problem itself. One of the most common examples of workplace miscommunication is the phrase, “it’s best if I just handle this myself.“
This sentence invites us to ask why, and if we follow, that is why we arrive at the root cause: lack of trust.
This feeling is usually expressed with a good dose of resentment and passive aggression, and what it really means is, “I don’t trust anyone else to get this right, and I’m resentful about that.“
Jonathan Ben Zvi
CEO, All Forward
Miscommunication in the workplace can lead to a lot of problems. For example, if team members don’t understand each other’s roles and responsibilities, it can lead to duplication of efforts and missed deadlines.
Furthermore, miscommunication can also lead to tension and conflict among team members.
When someone assumes they understand what the other person is saying
A common instance of miscommunication is when someone assumes they understand what another person is saying, but they don’t. When employers aren’t open to questions or when employees don’t make an effort to clarify can lead to misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions about what needs to be done.
When everyone is not on the same page
Another example is when coworkers are trying to collaborate on a project. In this scenario, everyone must be on the same page with regards to what needs to be done and what has already been done. If there is any confusion about who is doing what, it can lead to wasted time and frustration.
Businesses must strive to practice good and effective communication among their employees.
It is important in the workplace because it helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page. When people can communicate effectively, it can lead to a more productive and efficient workplace.
Additionally, good communication can help to resolve conflicts and improve relationships.
Head of Marketing, In Motion Marketing
Making inferences and drawing inaccurate conclusions based on someone’s behavior
One of the most common things I notice among my employees is that they make inferences and draw inaccurate conclusions based solely on a colleague’s behavior.
Let’s say it’s that time of year when supervisors review their employees’ work and decide whether or not to promote them. Now, let’s say you’re an employee hoping for this promotion. You have worked hard and noticed that the supervisor in question keeps smiling and cracking jokes with you.
You start to think that you’re getting the promotion because of the way the supervisor is communicating with you. Then, you find out someone else got the promotion, and you read all of that wrong.
This is just one example of how non-verbal communication (smiling, laughing) can cause an individual to draw their own inaccurate conclusions.
When these types of miscommunications occur, it can leave the employee feeling discouraged and the supervisor feeling bad for causing them any distress.
When employees don’t voice their opinions in fear of being misunderstood
Employees tend to stay quiet in fear of being misinterpreted. That’s not a good thing at all because it means that there’s a whole world of innovative ideas that aren’t being shared.
So, you must create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. Talk to your team members and encourage them to contribute their ideas.
This way, your employees will feel respected, resulting in effective communication with each other.
When employees feel like they aren’t accomplishing anything
Although this example might seem like the employee should work on themselves and their productivity rates, there are chances they aren’t able to accomplish anything due to a lack of proper communication.
Due to this, they need a better understanding of what the team is trying to achieve.
As a manager, you need to ensure that your employees know what they’re doing. So, it’s essential to interact with them and clearly communicate your company’s goals.
For a business to be fruitful, it’s fundamental that its representatives impart and cooperate to guarantee that errands are done accurately.
Be that as it may, language is muddled workmanship, and miscommunication can constantly happen, in any event, when individuals are attempting to make themselves as clearly understood as could be expected.
In any case, while miscommunication can’t continuously be stayed away from, particularly in the work environment, there are ways that individuals can react to it to assist with rectifying what is happening.
When employees feel they are working hard and not getting credit for the job
The biggest example of miscommunication in the workplace is employees feeling that they are working hard and not getting the credit for the job.
It’s crucial to return a stage to investigate the significance of the remarks that representatives make.
Regardless of whether their words might appear to be a piece of cruelty, there is worth to what exactly they’re saying. To this end, business pioneers should figure out a deeper, hidden meaning of what their representatives say.
Consider whether the worker is being ignored, and assuming they are, the reason may that occur?
On the off chance that you observe their work merits acknowledgment, make a point to show your appreciation.
Keep in mind it’s vital for representatives to feel that their work is esteemed.
CEO and Founder, Lift Vault
Lack of a true sense of tone in messages
As a digital CEO, I’ve found that one of the best ways to remove miscommunications at work is to use text-based communication methods, like email or Slack. However, what these platforms lack is a true sense of tone.
Communication styles that often translate well to efficiency or being direct can sometimes be misconstrued as annoyed or even hurtful. It’s essential to be clear about your intent and sometimes to take time to clarify the tone of your messages so that you don’t accidentally offend or cause disruptions in the workplace.
Conveying tone in text communication
While some people might think that it’s a waste of time or foolish to soften your tone in email or text messages, these tools are often some of the best ways to maintain good relations at work.
Being direct often makes for clear communication in verbal communication, but it often falls short in text communication.
One way to convey and soften your tone in text communication is to use exclamation points.
While this might not always be the most professional way to craft a message, adding a short “Thank you for your time!” at the end of an email can show both enthusiasm and appreciation for someone’s efforts.
Use clear outlines
In-text communication, some people feel overwhelmed when they encounter a large wall of text. This can cause unexpected misunderstanding as that much information can be hard to digest.
Try to break up your email into segments or logical steps to ensure that every facet of the email is understood so that people can understand the information in the email and their next logical steps.
Thinking that it’s preferable to say nothing than to be misunderstood
Nothing kills a discussion more quickly than someone who refuses to engage in one. In the survey, about half of the employees claimed they “rarely” speak up at work.
When they did, however, 52 percent said they were more likely to confide in their immediate manager, while just 47.5 percent said they would confide in their coworkers.
This situation necessitates more than a tall water pitcher; the survey authors believe that many organizations have a “cultural problem.“
It’s a waste of time to conduct performance reviews
One-on-one performance reviews – between themselves and their immediate supervisor – were cited by 63 percent of survey respondents as a major source of miscommunication.
Although performance reviews can be an excellent opportunity for an employee and supervisor to “meet of the minds,” employees claim that miscommunication is caused by:
- The uncertainty that their concerns will be heard. Disappointment that no clear goals have been established.
- Priorities differ. There is an excessive amount of time spent on irrelevant issues.
- “I’m apprehensive about seeking an explanation.”
Talent Acquisition Specialist, Tidio
“It will be easier if I just do it myself”
Usually, this type of miscommunication is a case of a lack of trust among the team. It could be hard for people to delegate tasks because they do not believe in others performing them on a high level. It leads to even more miscommunication, overworking, and burnout.
It’s essential to have a conversation about task assignment and distribution, set individual and team goals, and ensure that everyone has an equal workload.
“I feel like my work is pointless”
What is actually meant here is probably the lack of understanding a greater vision of where the team and the company are heading. It’s vital for employees to feel recognized and see the importance and impact of what they do.
It’s crucial to connect the individual work everyone is doing to the company’s mission and vision. A good solution could be introducing a goal-setting system (e.g., OKRs).
“I feel so bored in my work”
This often indicates that the person is stuck in repetitive tasks and needs more responsibility and room for growth.
It’s important to discuss the individual development plan with all employees, try to ensure they use their strengths, and grow in the direction they want to grow in.
“I am the leader, I will decide”
Such a statement can be used to assert authority, especially when an employer or team leader has to rein in the team. However, this can be interpreted to mean you do not value the contribution of the other team members. It can also be misinterpreted as condescending.
“Generate many reports”
This type of communication forms an expectation that doesn’t have a metric for measurement, making it an unclear expectation. By not specifying what number is referred to by many, you leave a lot to speculation.
An employee can generate 500 and deem that many, while another can generate 100 and consider that many.
Saying nothing in itself can be a miscommunication.
An example is when an employee continuously mishandles a report, and you keep accepting it and correcting it yourself without telling them. They could perceive their way to be correct, making your lack of communication a miscommunication.
CEO and Co-Founder, Virtual Vocations
Forgetting to respond to a coworker
Workplace miscommunication can be as simple as an email or Slack message that doesn’t have the proper punctuation to help clarify the sender’s tone or a forgotten response to a coworker regarding a project the two of them are working on together.
Either way, miscommunication among team members can create an atmosphere of resentment in the workplace and lead to poor interactions and decreased morale if not resolved.
One way to minimize miscommunication among employees is to identify and clarify processes for communication, including which channels should be used for discussion and what the expectations are surrounding response times between team members.
With clear communication methods and expectations in place, issues that crop up can be quickly identified and taken care of before they turn into ongoing problems.
Lack of confirmation
While no email is perfect, an employee needs to confirm the information they receive. However, most workers tend to skip this final step in communication in the workplace, leading to further misunderstandings.
A good example is an employee asking his fellow employee to help on a project. In such a scenario, the sender expects the coworker to email them back confirming their availability.
With work environments getting more diverse, potential miscommunications in the workplace are brought about. This disparity is because different people from different backgrounds relay messages differently.
For example, a person in the US forming a circle with their thumb and index finger depicts being ‘OK’ while it might mean money for a Japanese.
Director of Product and Growth, Leena AI
Conflict during team collaborations
Miscommunication in the workplace can be in different shapes or forms. Any dialogue can be misinterpreted by anyone in the team, resulting in a conflict between members.
One of the most common miscommunications happens while working in collaboration with a big team. During such a project, often the thing that is amiss is defining the owner.
This not just leads to utter confusion and chaos perhaps ends to miscommunications among the team members and ultimately leads to the failure of the project.
The simple solution here is to define the ownership and each member’s responsibilities before the start of the project. It is important to outline the people who will be responsible for what when a project involves collaboration.
That way, everyone is aware of their duties and responsibilities, and miscommunications are reduced.
Entrepreneur | Founder, Magik Flame
Employees feeling unappreciated
The most common example of miscommunication is not being recognized for your hard work.
Many people have felt this in their professional careers at one point or another. People believe they are putting in the effort and not getting their deserved appreciation.
This can create misunderstandings among team members, which reflects on the company culture. So, it is the employer’s job to ensure that all employees feel heard and appreciated for their efforts. They can have one-on-one meetings with staff members to hear about any concerns.
For instance, if an employee feels that a worker has been feeling under the weather lately, then they should talk to them personally. This can help improve morale, which is reflected in the employee’s performance.
CEO and Co-Founder, PlaybookUX
The biggest miscommunications are associated with expectations
I believe the biggest miscommunications in the workplace are associated with expectations.
They should be strategically and meticulously created in order to ensure that the employee knows what is expected of them, the employer knows what the employee will deliver, and there’s no miscommunication through the process.
Many times, the employee and employer are on very different pages as far as the specific expectations for them, and it causes big issues.
This isn’t something both sides do on purpose; it’s a miscommunication. And it happens often.
Instead, the employee should work at creating specific goals they’d like to hit and present them to the employer. The employer can then provide their feedback on the topic, and, through proper communication, they can find a place where they are both happy.
Don’t let this miscommunication catch up to you. Get it figured out before it’s too late!
Director of Demand Generation, Pandadoc
Employees are not informed enough about the company’s plans and growth
Not enough employees are informed on what the company they work for has planned and how they are planning to grow. Leaders and upper management work together on the big picture for the company, and they don’t keep up to date on exactly what is happening.
Without understanding what they are working on, an employee might lack motivation and might not understand why they are being asked to work so hard.
Instead, communicate all of this with your employees and help them understand where the company is headed.
Provide them with specific company goals, make them believe in what you are trying to do, and inform them on specific projects the management team is focused on.
They’ll work smarter for you and will appreciate being informed on the bigger picture of where the company is headed.
CCO, KONG Club
Failing to explain the “why” of an assignment
Oftentimes, management fails to explain the strategy behind tactics. When assigning staff tasks, they too often fall short of explaining the “why” of an assignment.
When employees understand why they’re doing something, they have the opportunity to add value and suggestions to improve the overall plan. Failing to communicate direction and negating any potential space for input hurts team cohesion and makes workflows less efficient.
A better management style looks like including everyone on company initiatives. When we all work together towards a common goal, we have an easier time getting there.
To be a successful company, you need to start with the basics: Effective communication.
But how would you know that effective communication is non-existent in your workplace? Here’s how:
People work independently on a project that needs collaboration
Some projects can be more successful if two heads are working on them. If your employees have their own way of working in this kind of project, there is an issue with communication existing.
It’s either they couldn’t fully comprehend your instructions, or the team’s cohesiveness is not intact, making them feel awkward working with each other.
Employees committing frequent errors
This is the simplest form of miscommunication in the workplace. When employees commit mistakes most of the time, it means they don’t understand. It can lead to severe problems which will internally and externally affect the company.
CEO, The Digital Merchant
Overpromising and under-delivering
Whether you are a boss who promised a promotion and salary increase to your staff but failed to do so, or you are a staff member who committed to submit a project at a specific time and date but still submitted it late.
Or worse, you are a desperate salesperson who promises the moon and stars to your client without knowing about your product and services.
Overpromising and under-delivering are detrimental in the workplace and in your business.
Besides fueling miscommunication issues, it is an ethical concern that disregards transparency, integrity, and trust at the workplace. When you get people’s hopes up yet you cannot fulfill your promise – it destroys your credibility and reputation.
Instead, be straightforward and set clear expectations. Do not make empty promises if you can’t do something within a particular period, date, and time.
CEO and Founder, PerfectGift4
Employees not understanding their role
Employees and members of a team should know why they are in a project.
- What is the point of their involvement in this undertaking?
- What’s the relevance of this endeavor, and why?
Employees should be aware of the long-term as well as the short-term implications of this.
When it comes to the company’s mission and how its daily activities help it succeed, employees are frequently misinformed. People who aren’t motivated at work are more likely to assume that their employment is pointless or boring as a result of this.
When workers are motivated to come to work, enjoy their work environment, and understand the organization’s long-term goals, they will have a better understanding of their role.
People will work harder and more efficiently if they have a clear understanding of why they are there in the first place.
When hiring a new employee and assigning tasks to that employee, be sure to emphasize the importance of the job to them.
A little misunderstanding can turn a compliment into an act of war. Miscommunication is something that must be avoided at your workplace.
Some of the common examples are:
“I do all the work, but others are praised for my work”
In such a case, you might mean that you’re not getting where you’re lacking and need to correct. But your statement sounds a little negative.
“I’m working way too much for the amount I’m paid”
However, you might mean that you’re overburdened while being undervalued. Using a statement that positively portrays your thought can prove to be helpful.
“I’m feeling a bit bored in my role and finishing tasks quickly”
What this means is that you wish to exercise more responsibility. This can be communicated well in a subtle tone too.
Besides, not just verbal expressions but some non-verbal gestures also lead to a lot of miscommunication. For instance, if you slouch during a presentation, it clearly implies nervousness and not being focused.
Differences in communication styles
Miscommunication is not uncommon in the workplace, and despite their responsibility to communicate effectively and set expectations, most managers and supervisors tend to end up being the biggest culprits.
In fact, the most common examples of workplace miscommunication come down to dealing with different communication styles, some of which are failing to meld well together.
For instance, in many offices, it is not uncommon for a direct and to-the-point manager to appear bossy to an employee person who would prefer small talk before getting to the point.
And it is such cases that, if left unaddressed, can often result in workplace conflict and/or increased job dissatisfaction.
In this respect, this is an example of workplace miscommunication that can usually be resolved by providing regular management training to ensure your team leaders can build strong communication skills and learn to adapt to what their staff member needs to ensure they get the job done.
Founder, Tragic Media
People reading messages with their emotions
Miscommunication in this day and age is extremely common, especially when most of our communication is done electronically; there’s always room for things to be misread or misrepresented.
One of the biggest examples of miscommunications happens when people read messages with their emotions.
A simple “ok” might sound too dry to a person having a bad day. However, the same “ok” could sound completely normal to a person having a good day.
It’s important to take the emotion out of things when reading messages sent online, as you never know what the person actually was feeling like when they sent their message.
It’s easier to avoid these types of miscommunications when we’re in person due to body language and tone. However, since we’re all chronically online due to the pandemic, I believe it’s necessary to start practicing this tip.
Vice President, Motivosity
Misinterpreting the tone of voice in a message
One example of miscommunication in the workplace is misinterpreting the tone of voice in an email or Slack message.
Everyone has a different style when they write, which can lead to misinterpretation because there are no other cues to help you understand the tone they intend to convey. Some people use more punctuation while others may choose to forego it, further leading to confusion when it comes to tone.
Here’s an example — compare these two sentences:
- “We need to talk about the project. I’ve scheduled a meeting for 1:00 pm today.”
- “Let’s talk about the project – I’ve scheduled a meeting for1:00pm today.”
These two sentences essentially say the same thing but can be interpreted very differently.
The first sentence feels more direct and can come across as sounding like there’s something wrong, or perhaps a mistake has been made. The second comes across as more of an invitation, inviting a discussion to happen.
However, until the meeting actually happens, you won’t know for sure what the true intent was because it truly could both be about a simple discussion or about a more serious issue— it all boils down to how the person writes.
Chief Editor, Best LLC Services
Employees missing the complete point of the assignment
Have you ever come across a screaming match between two of your
colleagues? Highly unprofessional, but at the end of the day, we are all
humans with an emotional limit.
Since the second year of university, I have been working in offices, and as an intern— and well into my adulthood— I have seen numerous conflicts arise in the workplace due to misunderstandings, may it be due to exhaustion or laziness to recheck.
As a young intern, I had little to no experience, and that led me to
usually stay quiet in team meetings. Is my idea worth the risk of being
You would find that some managers don’t like the idea of interns pitching in their thoughts. I have had many colleagues who would rather be confused about the topic of the meeting than aggravate a higher up.
There can never be a bigger miscommunication in the workplace than employees missing the complete point of the assignment, and you would be surprised how often that happens.
Co-Founder, Conex Boxes
Miscommunication about the content
An example of miscommunication within our business was when we were designing the first version of our website.
At the time, we planned on creating a design that was easy to use and had a decent amount of information on the landing page which showed people who we are, what they could get from us, etc. This is pretty much what we have now.
However, somewhere along the line, the amount of content that would be on the landing page ended up being an issue because there was a miscommunication about what content needed to go where on our site.
This caused an overly busy landing page which looked messy and created confusion for our customers.
It was an issue for us for quite some time. Unfortunately, it had to stay that way until we were able to create a new design and improve the overall user journey on our website— causing us to get a lower than expected visitor retention rate during that time.
This usually happens when the boss has a “superiority complex.” They think they are always right and their employees are wrong. When someone shares their opinion and doesn’t like it, they scold that person.
Now that person will be traumatized and will never raise their opinion again. Or that person will take so much time reviewing their issue before presenting their problems because they are afraid that their boss might get angry again if they are wrong.
Change in the job description
When the job description is shared during the interview and after joining, it is altered is an example of miscommunication. It leads to disappointment from both ends.
No meeting minutes
Most of the miscommunications are seen during meetings, especially when minutes of the meeting are not prepared, which is another example.
Chief Revenue Officer, MuteSix
Poorly phrased statements
Communication between employees is the lifeline of any business. What makes it tricky, though, is there are two parts to it: how it’s said and how it’s perceived.
More often than not, it boils down to a poorly phrased statement. I find this is typically due to uncertainty about how it’s going to come across.
If an employee comes across as curt, overly vague, or even passive-aggressive, try not to hang on to their every word. Pay attention to their body language to assess their comfort level and ask them questions.
Once they start talking, they’ll open up and eventually say what they’re really thinking and feeling. Make sure to make them feel comfortable and to chat with them long enough, so you get to the crux of the matter.
Marketing Manager, Zevo Health
Poor information dissemination
Miscommunication at the workplace could lead to chaos. It might lead to a huge loss for your business. Lack of communication can be due to lack of information, not informing, or forgetting.
For example, when managers talk about issues they are facing at work, they should inform their team about what needs to be done. The team should have enough information to do their work and understand the implications of the actions they take.
If the managers do not inform the team about the progress, they are just making a general announcement which does not help them or anyone else. It could even lead to some problems if the communication is faulty.
It is important for all employees and leaders to understand that if they are going to move forward with any ideas or plans, there has to be some form of communication, otherwise, they will not progress.
Rapport is damaged
As a young man, I once had a supervisor call me into their office and proceed to ask rapid-fire questions about my general performance and job satisfaction. Confused, I perceived the conversation to be an unplanned performance review and became immediately self-conscious.
Related: How to Be Less Self-Conscious
My answers were stilted, my nervousness and my overall demeanor distracted as my mind desperately tried to work out what I’d done wrong.
In truth, there was an unexpected opening for a leadership position. My supervisor, needing to fill the spot quickly, decided to conduct short interviews of his top performers to see who had the motivation to take on additional responsibilities. Needless to say, I wasn’t chosen.
Miscommunication in any setting is frustrating, but in the workplace, it’s costly:
- deadlines are missed,
- rapport is damaged,
- and opportunities are squandered.
It’s imperative that workplaces prioritize communication because, in many cases, the losses cannot be recovered.
Co-Founder, The Quality Edit
Team members aren’t in sync
Miscommunication can occur on a multitude of levels. However, even the slightest delay created can wreak havoc on your productivity levels. That’s why miscommunication should be addressed as early as possible.
Many companies see miscommunication occurring during cross-company collaborations. When some team members aren’t in sync, steps can be missed, and those who aren’t performing as well as others may misunderstand and fall behind.
Does this mean you should avoid collaborative projects? Of course not! Just be sure that a team leader watches out for problems arising from miscommunication.
And if at all possible, get everyone on an organizational app that can help manage existing and upcoming projects.
Co-Founder and Marketing Director, iKissBags
“That’s too much work for me”
Intended message: “I currently have a lot to work on; therefore, I can’t handle more as for now.”
The best way to handle this is to sit with your employee and go through their work schedule to establish the cause. If the employee has a lot of unfinished work, give them a break by reducing the tasks. Also, work on a comprehensive schedule that doesn’t overwork some of your employees.
“I don’t like this place”
Intended message: “I am experiencing some inconveniences working in this office.”
Many factors can lead to this miscommunication—this includes; poor personal management, harsh working environment, location of the workplace, and many more.
To deal with this issue, you need to involve your human resource department and hold a brief meeting to listen to your employees to tell what inconveniences they are experiencing.
CEO and Founder, WinIt
Lack of professionalism
One cause of miscommunication in the workplace can be a lack of professionalism. Many workplace misunderstandings come from mixing personal and professional life.
Employees may become so comfortable with each other that they become casual about sharing personal issues that would normally be inappropriate at work.
Team members sometimes text or call each other over work matters rather than using the company’s professional channels. Blurring the lines between employees and friends can sometimes erode a company’s professional etiquette and communication.
Ensuring your employees use company channels to communicate about work matters will lead to better communication overall.
Co-Founder, SEM Dynamics
When a project is mistakenly submitted to other people or departments
Miscommunication happens when there is a poor orientation of the communication flow to the members. One common example of this is when a project is mistakenly submitted to other people or departments, resulting in a waste of time for the people involved.
Instead of accomplishing everything even before the deadline, this miscommunication can even result in late submissions. This can create a big problem for the person in charge.
This is just one proof that miscommunication is something risky and threatening.
Founder, Drill and Driver
Giving unspecific deadlines for a task
Detailed deadlines are always a must if you’re going to ask for your employee to finish something for you. Being unable to provide exact deadlines, especially for important matters, can cause huge problems.
A good leader should not forget this the moment they ask for a job to be done.
Also, making follow-ups to the employee and checking the progress can improve the communication between the two.
Do not let the employee decide when to finish the task as you’re the one who needs it. That’s why making sure that the task falls within the desired schedule should be monitored.
Director of Sales, SEOBlog
I’d say that one of the miscommunication challenges in a workplace is the time zone mix-up. This usually happens in a remote or hybrid work setup.
Because of the time difference, there are some messages that were answered very late or, worse unanswered — and this is where a communication gap happens that leads to miscommunication.
To address this, I strongly suggest that employees should be mindful of the time zones and colleagues’ working hours. Also, it would help if there were a specific time when employees could discuss work with one another.
Another way is to drop a quick email instead of sending a message, as most employees check emails on a daily basis.
Founder, CoffeeGeek TV
Loss of information due to reliance on technologies
A common example of miscommunication in the remote workplace is the misunderstandings and even loss of information caused by the reliance on technologies to communicate and collaborate with each other.
Since these technologies cannot accommodate non-verbal cues, context nuances may not be properly delivered.
To cope with this, managers should clarify which communication channel (i.e., video call, voice call, instant message, email) is most appropriate for what purpose to minimize miscommunication and optimize collaboration.
Discussions that involve more context nuances should be had on video calls where facial expressions (and possibly hand movements) can be seen.
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