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7 causes of miscommunication in the workplace and how to avoid them

Even the most efficient and productive team is bound to encounter several hiccups in the workplace. Every day, causes of miscommunication slip in during a conversation, which others may or may not perceive as a minor mistake.

Addressing the mistake is a good way to avoid miscommunication and further conflicts. But is it possible to avoid them altogether?

The written and verbal communication system in the workplace

Emails, meetings, and coaching sessions are all part of the communication system in a workplace. Both written and verbal communication can take place as informal and formal.

Written communication refers to emails, memos, and chat messages between at least two participants. Formal written communication can be used as official documentation, especially when the initial conversation was informal in nature or verbal.

Verbal communication is carried out in person, over the phone, or through a video conferencing app. One of the advantages of verbal communication is that correspondence is instantaneous. 

On the other hand, one disadvantage of this communication system is that without any written documentation, the message could be forgotten or misinterpreted.

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The written and verbal communication system in the workplace

In the workplace, documentation is important as it can serve as evidence or as an official acknowledgment of whatever transpired.

Too much or too little communication will inadvertently lead to misunderstandings. In order to facilitate a positive workplace environment, everyone is encouraged to cultivate a work culture that is built upon communication best practices.

7 main causes of miscommunication in the workplace

Once miscommunication occurs, both parties in any workplace relationship must address the cause to avoid further conflicts and prevent it from happening again. Here are the seven most common causes of workplace miscommunication to be aware of.

Unclear message

One of the main goals of communication is to send a message in a clear and concise manner. But when we fail to address the topic, the subject, or the point of the message, this will lead to a misunderstanding.

In the workplace, this causes miscommunication between managers, team members, and even the executives themselves.

Lack of context

When in the workplace, context is a must. Any reports, analyses, and even guides are useless when taken out of context.

Lack of context when communicating with someone is a major cause of miscommunication as the listener may assume one thing and the speaker another. This will lead them to “agree” on certain terms while not fully understanding what is being said.

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7 main causes of miscommunication in the workplace

Poor management

From withdrawing information because it’s “above the pay grade” to delegating tasks improperly, poor management is another major cause of miscommunication in the workplace.

Not only that, but incapable managers and power-hungry administration are also common reasons why employees exit the company.

One-way communication

One-way communication happens when the speaker doesn’t open up the floor for any further discussion. 

As we all know by now, discussing topics and differences is important to cultivate a warm and welcoming work environment. 

If the speaker isn’t allowing for comments and suggestions, most will feel invalidated, and it will cause a negative ripple effect on the company.

7 main causes of miscommunication in the workplace

Demoralized staff

Low productivity rates are a telltale sign that your staff members are demoralized. While this can be fixed, prevention is better than the cure.

In a department that thrives on apathy, there is a higher chance of miscommunication, affecting the quality of work and their personal lives.

Employees spend the majority of their time in the office, so make sure that they are well taken care of.

Negative reinforcement

Sadly, some work environments implement negative reinforcement to ensure that employees are maximizing their time while working. Scare tactics and intimidation are common examples. 

Negative reinforcement is one of the most problematic causes of miscommunication as it breeds a toxic work environment. 

Limited feedback

When it comes to a professional environment, feedback is what makes employees learn how to be the best version of themselves. 

On the other hand, limiting the feedback to just a few words and baseless criticism will demoralize employees as they aren’t given any instructions on how to be better with their jobs. 

That said, feedback is not about spoon-feeding information. It’s about turning comments and ideas into an actionable improvement plan.

How to avoid the causes of miscommunication in the workplace

There are certain things that we, as a part of an organization, can do to lessen the chances of misunderstandings in the workplace.

Below, we’ve listed the best ways to prevent workplace communication. Deep-rooted issues, of course, need to be addressed and discussed among different parties for these to work.

Two-way communication

This is the complete opposite of one-way communication. Two-way discussions foster healthy communication between coworkers, managers, and executives of an organization.

Providing an avenue for everyone to speak, be it through monthly meetings or emails, helps cultivate new ideas, fresh perspectives, and transparency.

Positive reinforcement

With positive reinforcement, employees are more likely to be productive and efficient with their daily deliverables. This method of avoiding causes of miscommunication is proven even outside of the workplace.

Positive reinforcement is the practice of rewarding certain behaviors, making them more likely to happen in the future.

Boosting employees’ morale

From rewarding excellent behavior to instilling a positive work culture, boosting the morale of the employees is often linked to lesser chances of miscommunication in the workplace.

Doing team-building exercises is a good starting point to boost everyone’s morale every once in a while.

Clear goals and objectives

Setting a clear set of goals and objects—even within a department is another way of avoiding misunderstandings in the workplace, especially in daily operations and task delegation.

This way, every member of the team knows what they have to do and how they function inside the department.

How to avoid the causes of miscommunication in the workplace

Reforming the organization

Reform is not an easy feat for any company. It takes months and even years of internal reorganization for employees to shift the paradigm. 

If and when the reasons for miscommunication are deeply rooted within the management team, reforming is the last possible option.

Is callout culture another cause of miscommunication?

The callout culture stemmed from the depths of social media, and — believe it or not — it’s been a trend in some workplace departments as well.

An example of this is singling out employees or team members that did poorly in a task or had a slight mishap with their deliverable.

More than being a cause of miscommunication, it is a poor communication culture that does not give the affected party a chance to express their side through more formal channels.

This phenomenon leads to a hostile work environment bred by public humiliation instead of accountability and responsibility. 

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Derek Gallimore has been in business for 20 years, outsourcing for over eight years, and has been living in Manila (the heart of global outsourcing) since 2014. Derek is the founder and CEO of Outsource Accelerator, and is regarded as a leading expert on all things outsourcing.