Effective communication is the heart and soul of successful collaboration, yet it’s a skill that many people still struggle to master. In today’s fast-paced business landscape, even the most minor miscommunication can result in a massive setback for any team.
A recent study revealed communication barriers cost businesses an average of $62.4 million annually. Managers and HR leaders need to understand the nine common causes of miscommunication and how to address them to maximize productivity and encourage team collaboration, even in remote or hybrid working environments.
Today, we’ll look at the most common causes of miscommunication in the workplace and discuss solutions to help you mitigate risk and reverse the trend.
Nine causes of workplace communication failure
Miscommunication happens more frequently today, notably with the growing trend towards remote work. Digital communication methods don’t always allow for genuine human connection, so visual cues are often missed. The bottom line is that it’s easy to be misunderstood, and some may not realize how their everyday behavior feeds into the problem.
Lack of clarity in message
Poor clarity plagues many digital messages and can arise in various ways. Here are just a couple:
Ambiguous language and vague statements. Using language that is unclear or vague can be easily misunderstood.
Solution: choose your words carefully to ensure they convey your intended meaning. Be clear and concise, and proof your messages before sending them for clarity, proper spelling, and punctuation. A misplaced comma can instantly and unintentionally change the meaning of a sentence!
Misinterpretation of non-verbal cues. In face-to-face meetings, nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions help people understand sentiment. Misreading or not receiving these cues at all can result in mixed signals, frustration, and even anger.
Solution: be mindful of your nonverbal communication. When communicating in a virtual environment, say what you mean, and don’t expect others to pick up on your emotions. Avoid making assumptions about others’ intent. If you need clarification, speak up, be kind, and realize that you might not understand the whole picture.
Assumptions and stereotypes
Making assumptions, stereotyping, and bias (intentional or unintentional) often leads to misunderstandings and false expectations.
Preconceived Notions. We may misinterpret the message or the messenger’s intent when we allow bias to infiltrate our communication.
Solution: do not allow bias or personal opinion to impact communication negatively. Be empathetic, view your colleagues as equals, and treat them as you would like to be treated yourself.
Cultural Differences. Cultural differences and language barriers can impact the meaning of words and phrases.
Solution: Be aware of cultural differences and consider them during communication. Be helpful. If someone struggles to be understood, take the extra time to support them in getting their point across.
Bring your people together
Noise and distractions
Physical noise and mental distractions are common causes of miscommunication. Some noise is avoidable, but sometimes it may be related to connection quality. Control what you can and be respectful of others’ situations.
Physical Noise. Background noise can make hearing or concentrating on the conversation or meeting difficult.
Solution: eliminate or reduce physical distractions during critical communications by closing a door, asking your children or pets to play somewhere else, or going to a location where you know you won’t be disturbed. If the noise is coming from another party, mention it so they can do what they can to reduce it.
Mental Distractions. When distracted by other thoughts or concerns, we can miss important information and might not get the data we need to move forward.
Solution: be fully present and engaged during communication. Show up ready to pay attention and reduce outside distractions if possible. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, hydrating, and exercising are all excellent ways to keep your brain in top condition.
Emotional barriers can affect productivity and sometimes cause us to misinterpret what others say.
Emotional Barriers Hinder Effective Communication. Fear, anxiety, anger, depression, or other emotions can disrupt effective communication by creating a defensive or hostile environment.
Solution: It’s essential to manage your emotions when communicating with your colleagues and address any emotional reactions that arise. Granted, some emotional barriers arise from situations outside of work, but we must do our best to ground ourselves and shake it off before we enter the work environment. Practicing mindfulness or yoga each day helps to center our energy, at least briefly.
Practice Emotional Intelligence. Cultivating emotional intelligence solves many workplace communication barriers by allowing us to recognize and manage our emotions and those of others. Building emotional intelligence leads to better communication skills and stronger relationships with coworkers.
Lack of active listening
Active listening is crucial to effective communication, as in its absence, miscommunication is often the result.
The consequences of inattentiveness. Inattentiveness, multitasking, or simply not being present during meetings can lead to missed opportunities and impact productivity.
Solution: Practice active listening—the act of listening first before you speak. Doing so ensures you are present and can absorb the message without making assumptions. Practicing techniques like paraphrasing and asking questions when you need clarity will help you become a better listener and communicator.
Different communication styles
Not everyone thinks like you do. Thus, a communication style that differs from yours can lead to misunderstandings.
Direct vs. indirect communication. Some people communicate deliberately and concisely, while others use more indirect language. When these styles clash, it’s easy to be misunderstood.
Solution: Always strive to respect and adapt to alternate communication styles to ensure the message is crystal clear.
Verbal vs. non-verbal communication preferences. As with direct/indirect communication styles, misunderstandings can arise when preferences are misaligned.
Solution: discuss and adapt to verbal and non-verbal preferences on an individual basis. Practice emotional intelligence and be alert to subtle responses in others’ demeanor.
Technology and media limitations
Technology is convenient and essential in our remote work world, but its limitations can create communication challenges.
Technology challenges. Emails, text messages, and conference calls are often less effective than face-to-face communication in picking up on non-verbal cues and sentiments.
Solution: recognize the limitations of digital channels and don’t limit yourself to a single method.
Over-reliance on digital communication. Using only digital communication methods can lead to reduced personal interaction, which is essential for building trust.
Solution: balance digital communication with in-person interactions to maintain personal connection.
Lack of feedback and clarification
Two-way feedback is critical as it lets employees and managers know what they are doing well and how to improve.
The importance of seeking feedback. Feedback ensures that messages and tasks are understood. Lack of feedback leaves people in the dark, and they may not do their best work.
Solution: Asking questions and providing feedback strengthens trust between team membersand leadership and helps keep everyone aligned with the goals.
Strategies for effective feedback and clarification
Providing effective feedback requires a willingness to receive feedback and an openness to hearing different viewpoints. Strategies like the SBI Model (Situation, Behavior, Impact) can help establish consistency and promote a feedback culture.
Miscommunication is a costly problem for companies and can be incredibly detrimental to internal culture. If these issues exist in your company, it’s up to management and leadership to shape the change you want to see and support employee success.
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