Small miscommunications are part of life—misunderstandings, misinterpretation, and omissions of information happen. But miscommunication in the workplace on a large scale is detrimental to productivity, efficiency, and morale. Opportunities for miscommunication at work abound, especially now that remote work and online collaboration are business norms. Fortunately, there are easy ways to sidestep misleading communication. Follow this guide to learn how to avoid miscommunication in the workplace.

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What is workplace miscommunication?

What is miscommunication in the workplace? Workplace miscommunication refers to any error or breakdown in the conveyance of information, ideas, or plans, within an organization or among coworkers. It can be as simple as sharing the wrong time for a meeting or as complicated as setting off a chain of unwanted events by plugging the wrong numbers into an annual budget.

Impact of workplace miscommunication

Miscommunication at work comes at a cost. The following are some potential ramifications:

Wasted time: Clearing up miscommunication takes time. Corrective measures might require talking in person to individuals, holding a group meeting, or crafting written communications, all of which could have been avoided with clear communication.

Confusion: A lack of clarity can result in a lack of direction, leading to paralysis, scattered results, and difficulty reaching goals.

Poor morale: Trust and confidence in shared information is crucial for employees. A lack of clarity and transparency can result in low morale, frustration, and demotivation.

Stress: Miscommunication can create conflict among team members and cause anxiety and a sense of instability.

Inefficiency: Misunderstandings can force tasks to be repeated or revised, potentially affecting the ability to achieve goals and meet deadlines.

Additional mistakes: Poor direction may cause a team or employee to go wrong on a task or initiative, possibly triggering additional mistakes.

Revenue loss: Time is money, but workplace miscommunication can also result in a real loss of revenue.

Reputation damage: Ongoing miscommunication within a workplace can garner a poor reputation among employees and within the industry.

Legal ramifications: In certain instances, unclear, inaccurate, or incomplete communications can have legal consequences.

11 ways to avoid workplace miscommunication

Obviously, there are many ways to miscommunicate at work. But how do you keep it from happening? The answer is simple: clear communication. Follow these steps when crafting internal communications to ensure success and avoid the consequences of confusion.

1 Put it in writing

Verbal direction can easily fall prey to misinterpretation and reinterpretation. Well-written documentation allows for uniform distribution of the same information, eliminating the potential for hearsay. Written communication can also act as a reference source and a historical document, allowing readers to refer to it when needed and providing evidence of the exact communication for future reference.

2 Be concise

People tend to skim documents. To avoid getting your important message or action items lost in a sea of words and tangents, include only essential information, and keep sentences short.

3 Be clear

If you want the reader to do something, tell them exactly what you want them to do in plain terms. The more specific you are, the less room there is for confusion or misunderstanding.

4 Avoid jargon

Unnecessarily complex words, insider terms, and other jargon and expressions aren’t conducive to clear communication. People will often pretend to understand rather than call attention to themselves for clarification. For universal comprehension, keep it simple, and learn how to avoid jargon in your business writing.

5 Format for easy reading

For clear communication, state the purpose of your communication and your expectations of the reader up front. If additional information is required, share it in short paragraphs or bullet points. Breaking up text allows for easier digestibility.

6 Don’t just tell, show

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. If something is hard to explain, use graphics, illustrations, or photos to help clarify your message. Written examples can also be helpful.

7 Proofread

One of the best ways to avoid miscommunication is to look for and eliminate errors in your work before sharing it with others. Learn how to properly proofread your work, and always proofread your communications to confirm your messaging is correct, clear, and mistake-free. Double-check your facts, dates, meeting times, links, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you’ve looked at anything for too long, it becomes easy to overlook mistakes, so set aside your work for a bit, then read it aloud when you return to it. This can help you spot awkward or confusing language, errors, and opportunities for more concise wording.

8 Use multiple channels (not just one)

There are myriad platforms and mediums for workplace collaboration and communication, all of which are designed to help streamline efforts and facilitate discussions, information flow, project management, and other work-related exchanges. Examples include messaging apps, email, project management software, videoconferencing, portals, and social media platforms. Once you’ve sent word through one of these channels, consider using a different one to double-check.

9 Hold regular meetings

Meetings are important opportunities to bring all stakeholders together to discuss alignment, problem-solve, make decisions, build the team, provide feedback and recognition, and track progress and accountability. After each meeting, send a meeting recap to underscore discussions and decisions and provide clear insight to any absentees.

10 Conduct individual check-ins

Often, people with questions are more comfortable asking them outside of a group setting. One-on-one check-ins create space to connect and discuss progress, questions, and concerns, as well as to identify and eliminate confusion.

11 Ask questions

The easiest way to ensure that someone understands the information presented to them is to ask questions with answers that show comprehension. This can be done in a group setting, as a discussion, one-on-one, or even as a written quiz.

Examples of workplace miscommunication

The following are just a few common examples of miscommunication in the workplace—and what could have been done differently to avoid confusion.

  • You receive an “end of week” deadline. Is the work due Thursday afternoon, Friday, or even Sunday? There’s room for interpretation. Here, the potential for miscommunication is avoided by offering a clear, concrete deadline: “Please complete and deliver the assignment by [Day], [Date], at [Time].”
  • The development team changed the product launch date but didn’t share the news with the marketing team. Without clear communication, the marketing team will continue with their launch plans for the wrong date. Proper use of project management tools, team meetings, and messaging apps would help ensure all stakeholders can adjust to the new schedule.
  • An important request for a change in a client presentation was buried in the fourth paragraph of an email. The recipient missed the request, resulting in a flaw in the presentation that caused confusion and possible loss of business. Concise language and formatting for easy reading would have made it harder for the recipient to miss the change request.

Workplace miscommunication FAQs

What is workplace miscommunication?

Workplace miscommunication refers to any error or breakdown in conveying information, ideas, or plans, within an organization or among coworkers.

What are the costs of workplace miscommunication?

Miscommunication at work can have many potential consequences, including wasted time, confusion among team members, lowered morale, stress, inefficiency, additional mistakes, lost revenue, reputation damage, and legal ramifications.

How do you avoid workplace miscommunication?

The best way to avoid workplace miscommunication is to communicate clearly and concisely in writing, avoid jargon, leverage organized formatting, offer clarifying examples or visuals, proofread your work before distributing it, use platforms and mediums designed to streamline collaboration and communication, hold meetings, conduct one-on-one check-ins, and ask questions to confirm comprehension.

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