8 Causes Of Miscommunication In Your Workplace—And How To Fix Them

By Jayson DeMers

You don’t have to be a communications expert to realize that most organizations suffer, at least at times, from ineffective — and in some cases downright destructive — communication. However, pinpointing exactly what makes workplace communication “bad” is difficult, and improving that “bad” communication is even more difficult.

That’s why I’ve compiled this list of causes of workplace misunderstandings to help you identify and fix communication problems that reduce efficiency, increase stress and cost money.

Improve your business communications by avoiding these pitfalls

1. Inappropriate media choices

We are fortunate to live in a time when we have dozens of different communication mediums at our disposal. Unfortunately, this also means there are many inappropriate media choices.

For example, having a 10-person meeting instead of sending an email can multiply the time wasted, while trying to solve a complex problem via text message only ends up frustrating everyone involved.

Establish a clear guideline as to when each medium is the best available choice and play to each medium’s strengths.

2. Empty metrics

The modern business world revolves around data, with sales reps, marketers and even HR reps basing everything they do on improving specific metrics, from employee retention to customer lifetime value.

There’s nothing wrong with that; In fact, it is very beneficial if this optimization is done properly. The problem is that you can’t communicate with everyone just by numbers.

If you want your reports and arguments to be clear, compelling, and persuasive, you need to provide supplemental context so your audience can better understand what those numbers mean.

3. Ambiguous wording

“Do you want me to do that today or is next week okay?”


This is an example of an ambiguous answer: Is the “yes” for “today” or “next week”? Obviously, this is some sort of simple misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up with a follow-up question, but that may take some time. And bigger misunderstandings tend to have bigger negative repercussions.

Avoid these kinds of misunderstandings by being accurate, proactively anticipating how your sentences might be read, and rephrasing when necessary.

4. No replies

A notorious trait of modern politicians is to respond to a question with an avoidant no-answer:

“What are you planning to do in the current economic crisis?”

“I certainly believe in America.”

This is confusing at best and manipulative at worst.

If you don’t know how to answer a question, have the courage to admit it. And if you don’t understand the question, ask for clarity.

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5. Verbal inflation

Conciseness is the be-all and end-all of business communication, but sometimes people fall into the trap of verbal inflation when they try to explain too much (or sound smarter by elaborating). They write paragraphs instead of sentences and speak in monologues instead of conversations.

One way to reduce this source of misunderstandings in the workplace is to think twice about your words and make an effort to say less. Is there a way to say what you have to say more clearly and with fewer words?

6. Overly emotional communication

Have you ever heard the advice to write an angry letter but not send it? This also applies to workplace communication. Overly emotional communication can create tension and weaken your strategic position, so it’s far better to take some time to calm down — and return to the conversation once you’re properly grounded.

7. Passive aggression

Passive-aggressive communication is common in hostile workplaces where employees cannot openly criticize one another or raise concerns, but still have the motivation to show their feelings openly. This type of exchange is usually counterproductive, unclear, rude, and in some cases intimidating.

The solution is to create an environment where employees can express their thoughts, ideas and concerns openly and respectfully – which is often easier said than done.

8. Lack of consideration

Texting a colleague at midnight is inconsiderate. So expect an immediate response to an email when you know the recipient is busy, or refuse to reply to a message for weeks.

Empathy and humility throughout your organization will lead to far more considerate and pleasant conversations, and ultimately reduce misunderstandings.

Create guidelines to improve communication

Improving communication across the organization can be difficult, even when you know the biggest issues affecting your employees. That’s why it’s important to establish effective communication policies and guidelines—ones that clearly encourage employees to write, speak, and collaborate more productively and efficiently.

Leading by example is also important, so make sure all your outgoing communication is polished and conforms to the standards you set for others.

About the author

Jayson DeMers is the founder and CEO of Email Analysis, an email analytics tool that lets you visualize your (or your team’s) email activity in Gmail and G Suite. Jayson is also the co-host of the popular podcast The Entrepreneurship.

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