The number one reason for workplace miscommunication is assumptions. Most people, when communicating with others, assume that the recipient is already aware of the background or certain seemingly obvious parts of the communication, and omit such details. This is a big mistake, for the recipient may remain in the dark, or have a wrong picture.
Consider an example where a manager, when communicating change, makes the common mistake of assuming that the employees understand or can realize the benefits that the changes would bring, and do not make the benefits explicit. The manager might have made the assumption, considering what he did when the CEO communicated the same news to him, but overlooks the fact that not all employees have the same level or depth of knowledge, or the ability of critical insights that he might possess.
The information conveyed regarding the change might be that of a new work procedure to simplify things. Those with critical insight realize that the simplified procedure would mean an increase in productivity, and hence with an unchanged production incentive, more income for employees. Those with an understanding of the market would also know that the product is in demand, and that producing more will increase profits. The ordinary employees directly impacted by the news, but not having the ability to apply critical thinking or not having access to such information, however, remain anxious. They may see this simplified procedure leading to the need for fewer personnel, and hence take the communication as meaning imminent job cuts. Rumors soon start to develop and circulate, poisoning the environment.
Never leave anything to the imagination. Do not assume the recipient knows. Provide full details and state the obvious, even at the risk of sounding silly.
At times, owing to work pressure, failure to gauge the importance of the message, not wanting to commit to a course of action, or simply due to lack of details, many people tend to provide vague messages that are open to different interpretation. This causes confusion, and not everyone will seek clarification. Many recipients simply interpret as they perceive, and act likewise. When called to account for the same, they may perceive themselves as victims of injustice.
For instance, a communication might ask employees not to leave their systems on after work, without specifically instructing them to shut down their terminals. This might aim to ward off malicious hackers or other users from using the node to gain unauthorized access to the network. In the absence of such a reason, many employees interpret this as an initiative to save energy and simply turn off their monitors and leave the computers in power-save mode, to avoid the hassle of having to reboot the computers every morning, and load time-consuming applications and personalized settings every day.
Make sure to provide justifications or reasons, even when not required. Provide a detailed how-to, to remove all source of confusion, especially if there are two ways of doing things.
A common cause for miscommunication in the workplace is wrong interpretation of a message by the recipient. The message may contain uncommon or dual meaning words and phrases; either the recipient or the sender might lack the required language skills to communication skills, or cultural differences might lead to a different interpretation from what the sender intended.
For instance, a “moot” point in traditional British English is the “point to discuss”. In American English, “moot” means “null and void”. An Englishman communicating to an American “Shipping the goods over the Atlantic is a moot point”, stresses the need to discuss shipping logistics, but the American interprets the message to mean shipping is not an option.
Make sure to use simple and easy to understand words and phrases. When in doubt, cross check with a dictionary, or use the many resources available on the Internet.
Very often procrastination is the enemy. Many employees, out of laziness, not giving the communication the priority it deserves, owing to an innate dislike of a person, waiting for more clarity of the situation, forgetfulness, or any other reason, communicates late, or does not communicate at all, until the situation blows over, rendering the message superfluous.
The systems team might alert a manager to communicate to team members about the need to follow some safe browsing habits in the wake of some heightened threat. The manager, already hard pressed for time, decides to wait until the systems team comes up with the promised list of high-risk websites to stay off, and the nature of the threat, to provide full details and thereby avoid the hassle of each team member turning up for clarifications. By the time the systems team provides full details, and the manager sends across the message, unsafe browsing habits might already have led to a malware infection, and caused the damage.
Always communicate promptly. If details are not available, make sure to end the communication with more details to follow. Ask the recipient to revert for clarifications, and make sure to respond to such clarifications immediately.
The individual causes notwithstanding, organizations have a responsibility towards ensuring efficient communications by:
- Providing employees with seamless and state of the art technology and devices such as instant chats, instant emails, intercom, laptops and other devices that allows frequent, instant, and hassle-free communication, even when on the move. Employees need to reciprocate by acquiring competence in such technology.
- Developing a communication policy that specifies the structure and flow of communication, mandatory reporting requirements, communication protocols, and daily reporting guidelines, all of which ensure that the right information reaches the right person at the right time.
- Having a central information officer, or node, to monitor and regulate the flow of communication and information, and serve as a central figure to seek clarifications and process external communications
- Calling the employee to account for not acting on communication, or not sending communications as required
An organization without any of these in place thrives in miscommunications and suffers from missed opportunities, dysfunctional systems, teams working at cross-purposes, and various other ills. The success of any business depends on effective communication. Employees and business owners who ignore or underestimate this fact, and take the issue lightly, do so at their own peril.
Source: Author’s experience
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