reasons-for-miscommunication

6 common reasons for miscommunication at work (and how to avoid them)

May 13, 2021 | Blog Post

“Next year’s annual customer event will be held in Austin. Please start planning immediately. Be prepared to connect in a few months to present the details of your plan.”

The marching orders from your boss are clear. An event in Austin. Next year. As the Head of Events at your organization, you waste no time … diving headfirst into the plans.

Fast forward to “a few months later,” and you present your plan to the C-suite. Someone raises their hand when the first slide appears, “Why does that say ‘Austin?’ Our annual event is in Boston.”

Silence. Embarrassment. Awkwardness. Frustration.

And wasted time.
And wasted money.

According to The Cost of Poor Communications — a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees — the average loss per company is $62.4 million per year due to inadequate communication to and between employees.

$62.4 million per year.

In another study from The EconomistCommunication barriers in the modern workplace, 44% of respondents said communication barriers are leading to a delay or failure to complete projects. Additionally, 31% reported poor communication resulting in low morale, 25% in missed performance goals, and 18% in lost sales.

In short, miscommunication is having many negative impacts on organizations, teams, and their employees.

6 common causes of miscommunication

While the causes for miscommunication can be varied (and some specific to the individual, the team, or the organization), here are 6 of the more common reasons teams struggle with effective communication.

In no particular order …

1. Poor team chemistry: If any team is to have success, they must find ways to work well together. Poor team chemistry often results in conflicts and miscommunication. This is not only bad on an individual level (unhappy employees), it can also be a detriment to the project … and the organization as a whole.

How to fix: Team dynamics can be established and reinforced through daily standup meetings, weekly project calls, individual check-ins, and team-building activities. The better a team knows one another, the more likely they’ll be to communicate effectively.

2. Making assumptions: Accepting something as accurate without having proof, often based on incomplete (or sometimes even wrong) information. When team members make assumptions — without asking for clarification — bad things tend to happen. See Austin vs. Boston example in the intro.

How to fix: Take the extra time to ask a follow-up question until you are certain you understand. Repeat back what you heard, “To confirm, you are saying that … Is that right?”

3. Not practicing active listening: Are you listening so you know when there is a break in the conversation … so YOU can talk? That’s called “listening to talk” and quite the opposite of active listening. Active listening requires full concentration so you, the listener, can understand and effectively respond to what the other person is saying.

How to fix: Turn off alerts. Close your laptop (unless you are on a video conference!). Make eye contact with the speaker. Repeat back what they said to ensure complete understanding.

4. Choosing the wrong channel: Email. Slack. Phone. Text. In-person meeting. Virtual (video) meeting. LinkedIn message. In-app message. So many choices. While there is never a perfect communication channel, sometimes one is better than the other. And if you choose the “wrong” channel, messages can get lost, delayed, or left unread.

How to fix: Work with your team to establish “communication channel norms.” Agree on what channels will be used for specific types of conversations. Note: This is often unique per organization and even per team.

5. Not having an open mind: Closed-mindedness is a communication killer. It’s one thing to have strong convictions; totally different not to be open to hearing ideas that differ from your beliefs.

How to fix: Build and foster a team culture that is open to new ideas and perspectives.

6. Lack of transparency: Organizations and teams that operate on a “need to know” basis are doing a disservice to their employees by not being open and forthright. Lack of openness and transparency can have substantial negative impacts on morale and productivity — and result in an overwhelming miscommunication.

How to fix: Take the time to showcase the work of all members of your team. This will help provide a “bigger picture” of what’s happening in your organization by highlighting each and every task.

DJ Waldow

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