Miscommunication in the Workplace: Causes, Effects, and How to Solve It
As many prolific entrepreneurs and professionals have highlighted, constructive workplace communication is the foundation of any company’s success and growth.
However, implementing effective communication processes raises many challenges for companies, given our often volatile work environment dominated by tool-mediated interactions. Moreover, data has emphasized exactly this.
Hence, the need for optimized communication procedures is paramount. If they are lacking miscommunication and potential conflicts arise, which can seriously damage a company.
Reading further, you’ll discover the most common causes and effects of workplace miscommunication, alongside some helpful tips to solve it in the long run.
Let’s jump in!
1. What does miscommunication in the workplace look like?
Miscommunication happens when there are discrepancies between what is said and what is understood during a dialogue.
Effective communication is essential at work as it not only generates stronger interpersonal relationships but also impacts the business’s overall productivity. From avoiding missed deadlines, project mess ups and wasted resources, to increasing team cohesion, effective communication is the cornerstone of every productive team.
At work, ineffective communication can occur for many reasons. Most often, miscommunication in the workplace is caused by:
- Emotional barriers;
- Perceptual barriers;
- Interpersonal barriers;
- Cultural barriers;
Besides these, technological glitches may also be a contributing factor given the growing popularity of remote work.
2. Most common causes of miscommunication in the workplace
Given the volatility of the modern work environment – between brainstorming sessions, client calls, and interdepartmental meetings, it’s hard to avoid miscommunication completely.
Truth be told, eradicating miscommunication within the workplace entirely is almost impossible. However, identifying its most common causes is a step in the right direction towards reducing miscommunication and increasing work productivity.
Once the most common causes of miscommunication in the workplace are understood, it is easier to circumvent them. Thus preventing the same miscommunication event from happening again and nipping the problem in the bud.
To help you overcome miscommunication in the workplace, below, you’ll find a list of the most common causes of ineffective workplace communication.
- Lack of employee engagement
Disengaged employees are not only likely to produce plenty of opportunities for miscommunication but are also a significant threat to company productivity overall.
Needless to say, employees’ level of engagement within the workplace is closely related to the work culture. This is greatly influenced by whether or not managers foster open communication and develop effective communication plans and procedures.
Besides financial security and reward, employees also need emotional care.
To become highly engaged and productive within the workplace, they need to feel heard, valued, and that their work matters.
Adopting upward communication procedures, like having an open door policy and encouraging open discussions, can further reduce miscommunication.
- Unclear objectives
Setting clear and realistic objectives is one of the engines that keeps a business on the right track towards growth and prosperity.
To become productive and successful, a company should not only establish larger business objectives (like reaching X employees or divisions by the end of Y year). Goals are equally needed for smaller projects.
When managers do not communicate particular goals for specific projects with their teams, they risk having employees underperform. Where there’s unproductivity, usually there is also financial trouble.
Thus, miscommunication in the workplace and not setting clear objectives can lead to serious money down the drain.
Therefore, initiating open discussions about every team member’s tasks, deadlines, and expected results is a great way for a new project to begin on the right foot.
Constant updates, check-ins, and mention of any possible changes are also likely to generate more productivity within the workplace.
- Limited or a complete lack of feedback
Feedback is the number one element that leads to professional growth, improved work, and successful projects.
Often – because of lack of time or unwillingness to keep in touch with teams, managers can overlook the importance of regular feedback.
Feedback can be the catalyst for growth, when given constructive criticism employees have the opportunity to refine their work. Feedback is extremely valuable, as without it how can any of us know if we are not delivering the results desired from us?
In modern businesses, a lack of honest feedback is a common cause of miscommunication which can manifest in poor quality projects and an overall negative company image.
- Weak non-verbal and interpersonal communication skills
Thanks to a distinct set of skills – like empathy or outgoingness – clear communication comes naturally to some people. These are the so-called “born communicators” – people to whom adapting their communication to different individuals and circumstances is effortless.
However, while not everyone is born a natural communicator, interpersonal communication skills can be improved in several ways. For example, emotion or body language management seminars, and public speaking classes usually are a great place to start.
Employees’ weak non-verbal and interpersonal communication skills are one of the most common causes of miscommunication in the workplace.
From rushed written emails to misleading non-verbal or paraverbal hints offered during a call, miscommunication has plenty of doors to slip through and wreak havoc. These can lead to missed deadlines, incomplete tasks, and co-worker tension.
Cumulatively, all of these factors can cause severe unproductivity and monetary loss.
To overcome work miscommunication stemming from weak non-verbal and interpersonal skills, there’s a two-level action plan required:
- putting a strong emphasis on communication skills during the recruitment process
- organizing regular workshops and seminars aiming to foster collaboration and improve interpersonal communication competence
- Poor leadership
Regardless of the field, success starts from the bottom. This means that for a company to be a well-oiled machine, it has to invest in optimizing internal procedures – starting with communication.
Therefore, how managers communicate, handle their team’s projects, and encourage collaboration is vital for a business.
To ensure everything runs smoothly within a company, that all projects are on the right track, and deadlines are met, managers have to promote open communication. Moreover, they should regularly check in, define tasks when starting – and during a project, and also discuss employee expectations clearly and openly.
All in all, poor leadership can lead to confusion and employee frustration. In the end, this will only set the scene for miscommunication and unproductivity to thrive.
3. Effects of miscommunication in the workplace
While effective communication is the centerpiece of any prosperous company, its lack – as mentioned – generates unproductivity through a series of miscommunication effects.
Below you’ll find examples of workplace miscommunication, which can be both causes and effects of employee unproductivity.
- Poor team cohesion and collaboration
Since there is no collaboration without communication, effective communication plays a crucial part in helping team members bond and foster team cohesion.
As many professionals have highlighted through various communication quotes, effective communication is the cornerstone of every outstanding project.
“When communication is clear and effective, it can help build strong relationships, inspire trust and cooperation, and contribute to a more productive work environment.” – Fanny Surjana, CEO of Quenchlist
“Communication is one of the building blocks of a business. Effective communication is required in every aspect of your business: from working with your workers to closing a deal with your customers.” – Joshua Rich, Business Owner at Bullseye Locations
“Communication is essential in any business situation, especially when trying to build a strong relationship. When you have open communication with your employees and partners, you minimize the chances of miscommunication.” – Kristina Kovtun, CEO & Founder of Better Proposals
- Workplace conflicts
Poor communication is a vicious circle.
While miscommunication leads to wrong assumptions, these can also generate intense workplace conflicts that alter work productivity.
Workplace conflicts usually arise from miscommunication at one or more levels – depending on the barriers which have already been mentioned – that stand in the way of effective communication.
- Low employee morale and attention
Having disinterested and unfocused employees is a liability for any company.
Often caused by poor leadership, when miscommunication rears its ugly head and causes low employee morale, it prevents workers from reaching their targets.
4. Tips on how to avoid miscommunication in the workplace
As we pointed out earlier, identifying the causes of miscommunication in the workplace is the first step towards fixing it. The next step is taking action.
To help you secure your process of overcoming miscommunication, once the primary causes have been discovered, here are some valuable tips.
For your company to increase its productivity and avoid miscommunication in the workplace, you should start with:
- being clear and concise
- don’t make assumptions
- discussing expectations
- practicing active listening
Miscommunication is a serious issue that all companies looking to flourish would be wise to thoughtfully address.
To overcome miscommunication – companies experiencing poor communication should start by planning an in-depth and actionable internal communication plan.
A well-thought through internal communication system can work wonders and help a company reach the highest peaks it aspires to.
To be effective, it should cover every facet of internal communication and be specifically targeted to each company’s profile.