Miscommunication is a staple of sitcom blunders, but we rarely find ourselves laughing when it happens in real life. Whether it causes a fight with a spouse or a row at work, there is nothing funny about miscommunicating. It can cause not only heartache, but loss of reputation, opportunity, and even career.
In this day and age, it’s more important than ever to communicate clearly! So what’s the secret to communication? Unfortunately for us, we can’t always ensure that what we say and do will be correctly interpreted by the people around us. What we can do, however, is work towards being more conscious communicators.
Here are my top tips for ending miscommunication in the workplace.
How to Avoid Miscommunication in the Workplace
1) Define your terms.
A big mistake we all make in our discussions is assuming that everyone shares the same universal definitions for everything. While we might have the same definitions for words like “dog” or “chair,” for more conceptual terms like “politics,” or “love,” people have different views and ideas. When exchanging these ideas, it’s important to define your terms. This is valuable both when dealing with ideas and concepts but also when in the workplace and dealing with industry or technical jargon — particularly if you are working with a client or someone outside of that industry.
If you want to avoid misunderstandings, define your terms in the beginning. If you are unsure what someone else means, simply ask, “well, what do you mean by that?” and establish what exactly is being spoken about. This creates an initial common platform upon which you can hold a discussion.
2) Realize that we all have a filter.
Whether we realize it or not, our unique experience, culture, and background shape how we see and understand the world. Everything — including what people say to us — comes through this filter and into our understanding. We can say something to someone and they may interpret it totally different than how we imagined, and that is because their cultural filter is radically different than ours.
We can avoid miscommunication by realizing this and taking it into account and being more compassionate and sensitive to others. How might someone interpret this differently? Could this come off as insensitive or hurtful?
We see tone-deaf marketing campaigns all the time and wonder how someone didn’t catch it...and it’s likely because there was no one around with the filter of cultural or personal experience to expose a marketing team’s blind spots. Instead of waiting for the backlash, begin by being aware of your own blind spots first!
3) Don’t make assumptions.
Miscommunication happens often because we assume what people already know. In the professional world, it is often better to over-communicate if you are worried about being misinterpreted. Focus on being as clear and concise as possible as not to have the heart of your message obscured by noise. Say it verbally. Send emails. Make handouts.
Don’t assume that people know what you expect of them.
4) Make resources (and yourself) available.
In positions of leadership, one mistake we make is to cloister ourselves away from our team and expect them to still know what’s going on. In order to keep everyone on track to keep communication clear, that channel has to be open. If you want to avoid miscommunication, actually communicate with your team. That means making yourself available and being responsive. That doesn’t mean forsaking your reasonable boundaries, but it does mean leaving your office door open. It means creating an environment and crafting a demeanor that encourages and rewards good questions.
Be someone who is available. Don’t hide information for your team. Make it available and make instruction clear!
5) Be an active listener.
Active listening is such a critical part of avoiding miscommunication. Active listening is when you take in what a person is saying not just to listen, but to understand. One strategy of active listening that is particularly helpful is to repeat what a person has explained in the form of a question. This allows a person to clarify or correct any misinterpretation that may have occurred.
Have you ever had a communications blunder? Share what you learned from the experience in the comments.