Miscommunication in the Workplace: Sources and Solutions

Miscommunication in the Workplace: Sources and Solutions

Does the following sound familiar?

You have just spent the last 20 minutes puzzling over an e-mail from your supervisor. No matter how many times you’ve read through it, you are not clear on what is expected of you. Bottom line—you feel powerless and stumped.

How should you proceed? First let’s examine common miscommunication sources.

Here are four common sources of miscommunication in the workplace and suggestions for how to deal with them.

1) Lack of Information

When people lack information, it is only human nature to assume or guess what is going on. This is common source of how unwanted rumors begin in the workplace.

“Cascading” is an easy and effective way to avoid this problem. Cascading is the process of having information flow from the top down. Ensure that information is clear and concise, and that the people in each level of your organization’s hierarchy not only know what needs to be conveyed to their subordinates, but actually carry through with transmitting the information to them.

2) Personality Differences

You probably work in an environment where there are people that think and behave differently than you. Because people have differing backgrounds, experiences and gender, they also have differing perspectives of what is being communicated. 

Therefore, consider the individual when you are engaged in one-on-one communication. Taking the individual’s background, experience and gender into account enables you to communicate with them from a perspective that they can relate to.

3) Limitations of Electronic Communication

Studies show that less that 10 percent of what we communicate comes across via words alone. The problem with electronic communication, such as e-mail and text messaging, is that it is done exclusively with words. Electronic communication lacks voice intonation, body language, and emotion, which normally carry the remaining 90 percent of our message. The other problem with electronic communication is it can be misdirected. 

If questions or concerns crop up that cannot be addressed using electronic communication, you need to make contact with people by telephone or by meeting with them. Continuing to use electronic communication can lead to compounded miscommunication. Sometimes it takes as little as one minute to clarify miscommunication by talking to someone directly. There is no limit to how long it can take if you try to resolve a problem using only electronic communication.

4) Cultural Differences

Cultural diversity in the workplace is increasing and that can increase miscommunication. Therefore it is important to understand cultural differences. In some cultures people smile when they are nervous or afraid, in other cultures a smile can be an insult. 

If you have the benefit of working in a culturally diverse workplace, take the opportunity to research the different cultures. The process of learning about other cultures can be fun. For example, consider having different people bring their ethnic food for lunch on Mondays. During this time encourage them to communicate things that they have experienced because of their cultural differences. This can open lines of communication in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

Next let’s focus on the solution(s) to this problem.

In order to reduce miscommunication in the workplace, it is important to identify the source or sources of the miscommunication and implement solutions. Once you have identified a problem, it is up to you to apply the skills and knowledge you have obtained through learning and application. The key component is first – gain clarity by clarifying and confirming. One cannot expect ‘buy – in’ without this stage. Performance will only follow clarity and understanding.


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