By Jayson DeMers
It doesn’t take a communications expert to realize that most organizations suffer from ineffective—and in some cases, downright destructive—communication at least some of the time. But pinpointing what makes a workplace’s communication “bad” is difficult, and improving that “bad” communication is even harder.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of causes of miscommunication in workplaces so you can identify and correct communication problems that reduce efficiency, increase stress, and cost money.
Improve your business communication by avoiding these pitfalls
1. Inappropriate medium choices
We’re fortunate to live in an era with dozens of different communication mediums available to us. Unfortunately, this also means there are many inappropriate medium choices.
For example, having a meeting with 10 people instead of sending out an email can multiply time waste, while trying to resolve a complex problem via text message will just end up causing frustration for all parties involved.
Create a clear policy for when each medium is the best available choice, and play to the strengths of each medium.
2. Empty metrics
The modern business world revolves around data, with salespeople, marketers, and even HR reps basing their entire jobs on improving specific metrics, from employee retention to customer lifetime value.
There’s nothing wrong with this; in fact, it’s quite beneficial when this optimization is done right. The problem is, you can’t communicate with everyone using numbers alone.
If you want your reports and arguments to be clear, persuasive, and compelling, you need to provide supplementary context so your audience can better understand what these numbers mean.
3. Ambiguous phrasings
“Did you want me to get that done today, or is next week okay?”
This is an example of an ambiguous answer: does the “yes” apply to “today” or “next week”? Obviously, this is a kind of simple misunderstanding that could be easily cleared up with a follow-up question, but that may take time. And bigger misunderstandings tend to make a bigger negative impact.
Avoid this type of miscommunication by providing specificity, proactively anticipating how your phrases may be read, and rephrasing yourself if necessary.
An infamous trait of modern politicians is responding to a question with an avoidant non-answer:
“What do you plan to do about the current economic crisis?”
“I, for one, believe in America.”
This is, at best, confusing, and at worst, manipulative.
If you don’t know how to answer a question, have the courage to own up to it. And if you don’t understand the question, ask for clarity.
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5. Verbal inflation
Conciseness is king in business communications, but sometimes, in an effort to err on the side of overexplaining (or to sound smarter through elaboration), people fall into the trap of verbal inflation. They write paragraphs instead of sentences and speak in monologues instead of engaging in conversation.
One way to mitigate this cause of miscommunication in the workplace is to thoroughly think through your words and strive to say less. Is there a way to phrase what you have to say more clearly and with fewer words?
6. Overly emotional communications
Have you ever heard the advice to write an angry letter, but not send it? That applies to workplace communication, too. Overly emotional communications can create tension and weaken your strategic position, so it’s much better to take some time to cool off—and return to the conversation once you’re properly grounded.
7. Passive aggression
Passive aggressive communications are common in hostile workplaces, where employees can’t overtly criticize or express concerns about each other, but still have the motivation to make their feelings apparent. These types of exchanges are typically counterproductive, unclear, rude, and in some cases, intimidating.
The solution is to create an environment where employees feel free to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns openly and respectfully—which is often easier said than done.
8. Lack of consideration
Texting a coworker at midnight is inconsiderate. So is expecting an immediate reply to an email when you know the recipient is busy, or refusing to respond to a message for weeks.
Empathy and humility, throughout your organization, will lead to far more considerate and pleasant exchanges and will ultimately reduce miscommunication.
Create guidelines to improve communication
Improving communication across an entire organization can be difficult, even if you know the biggest issues afflicting your staff. That’s why it’s important to put effective communication policies and guidelines in place—ones that clearly and specifically encourage employees to write, speak, and collaborate in more productive, more streamlined ways.
It’s also important to lead by example, so make sure all your own outgoing communications are polished and in line with the standards you set for others.
About the Author
Jayson DeMers is the founder and CEO of EmailAnalytics, an email analytics tool that enables you to visualize your email activity (or your team’s) in Gmail and G Suite. Jayson also co-hosts the popular podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.