The coffee mug reads: World’s Best Boss. He bought it for himself. A hair shy of megalomania, the subversive, stunningly ignorant Regional Manager of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company known as Michael Scott is a train wreck of misogynistic, racist, and generally indecent sound bites.
Scott is a know-it-all, and a man of self-professed greatness. He is nearly the entire reason the Dunder Mifflin outlet is a grinding affair. And it is almost solely his inability to communicate properly—he can neither talk nor listen appropriately—that has run the office into both a morale crisis and a professional one. Of course, Scott is a satirical character from NBC’s hit show, The Office. But we can still learn from his exaggerated faults, miscommunication included.
There are many ways we can miscommunicate. From the errors of the sender/receiver relationship, to ambiguous language, to language that bears multiple meanings and connotations: the pitfalls of misunderstanding are large and plentiful. And those are merely the outcomes of earnest communication: add in sarcasm and all its nuances and there is a fairly high potential for miscommunication in the workplace.
That said, much of what we see as miscommunication is a lack of understanding when it comes to our communication styles. According to Data Dome, a website that discusses all things related to communication for the purpose of maximizing individual and corporate potential, there are three types of miscommunication:
Intrapersonal miscommunication is the kind Michael Scott suffers from. Quite simply, he does not communicate with himself. Intrapersonal mis-communicators cannot accept their weaknesses along with their strengths. It is a blind spot to them. They simply do not acknowledge their weaknesses.
This can have weighty consequences on those immediately around them, as they constantly have to exceed their efforts to compensate for the lack of quality in the efforts of those with the blind spot.
It is hard for fellow employees even to approach them because the intrapersonal mis-communicators cannot recognize the problem. This strain can lead to conflicts and stressors that bring morale down. It can wear out the employees who are directly involved.
Intrapersonal mis-communicators have to acknowledge their weaknesses if the issue is to be resolved, otherwise they will continually frustrate and exasperate those around them.
Interpersonal miscommunication happens between people when we do not understand or appreciate our different communication styles. This can lead to personality conflicts and counterproductive office politics. This not only slows business productivity down, but can be a dominant distraction and morale sinker.
By learning about the strengths and characteristics of different communication styles, gaps in understanding can be filled, and miscommunication reduced.
Job miscommunication is primarily a managerial error. It can mean the wrong people are in the wrong place. It can mean the plan, the accountabilities, or goals are not clear. Again, understanding communication styles and their strengths can help reduce this problem. Once the job accountabilities are defined and the qualities of the personnel are understood, the right people can be maneuvered for the appropriate task.
If we are conscious of the way we speak to each other and are diligent to be as clear as we can, we can at least cover some distance on the road to avoiding the above types of miscommunication. After all, good communication is ultimately about gaining understanding.
That means reserving judgment, being slow to anger when an offense has taken place, and being adaptable to the different communication styles of those around us.
Something that Michael Scott doesn’t do well either. The consummate inept character, Michael Scott is flawed in every way, save for an ability to keep his job; he is incredible at misunderstanding even the simplest social cue. And audiences love him for it. Of course, in satire it’s amusing. Not so much in real life.
If we each take the time to keep aside our assumptions and instead put effort in understanding others, we can sidestep the various types of miscommunication and make our time at the office a much smoother and rewarding experience.
To improve teamwork, you can incorporate the three key interpersonal communication skills Nick Perrin introduces in his blog post here.