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How to avoid miscommunication in the workplace

Today’s business word of the day is “miscommunication.” According to the unabridged English language version of the Collins English Dictionary, the definition of miscommunication (mɪskəˌmjuːnɪˈkeɪʃən; past participle miscommunicated) is, “a failure to communicate effectively.” Related words from the thesaurus include “misperception” and “flounder.”

While there’s a strong chance you already knew that on a basic level, you might not have thought about how it relates to small business owners.

As a small business owner, you’re worried about everything from product development to securing capital from investors. One of the aspects you may overlook is your company culture. Unfortunately, a poorly-developed company culture could put your company in as much trouble as any financial transaction or mistake. Poor communication is one sign of a weak company culture.

In this article, we’ll detail how to avoid miscommunication in the workplace. We’ll start by covering the common causes of miscommunication in the workplace. Then we’ll go over the benefits of good communication and tips you can implement for effective communication that could help your small business grow and succeed.

Common causes of miscommunication in the workplace

Unfortunately, miscommunications are all too common in the workplace. Whether it’s happened in your own company or while working with a client, there’s a good chance you can think of at least one example of poor communication that you’ve experienced in your professional career.

Identifying the cause of miscommunication can go a long way toward ensuring it doesn’t happen again in the future. Consider these common causes of miscommunication in the workplace.

Making assumptions

One of the biggest reasons for workplace miscommunication is the fact that employees tend to make assumptions frequently. Take doctors, for instance. When talking with understudies, doctors may assume that the individual knows what’s being discussed. If the understudy doesn’t know this information, they’ll quickly find themselves lost.

And the understudy may not want to speak up out of fear of embarrassment. The doctor easily could have avoided this situation by ensuring that everyone was on the same page when he or she began speaking.

As we’ll detail below, direct messaging and effective communication will go a long way toward preventing this.

Lack of accountability

When something goes wrong in the workplace, it’s easy for people to turn and point fingers. Too often, people aren’t aware of their roles on a project. Perhaps there’s poor management in place that doesn’t hold people accountable. Whatever the case may be, a lack of accountability can cause miscommunications.

For instance, imagine a project where no one steps up to take charge. As a result, a huge step of the project goes unfinished. Workers are quick to cast blame. One person may indicate that they thought “Joe” was going to do it, while Joe says that he thought “Jane” was going to complete it. Having everyone step up and take responsibility for their work will help avoid miscommunication.

Not buying into the company

Employees and team members should understand the “why” of a project. Why are they working on this project? Why does this project matter? Employees should grasp this not only in the short-term but in the long-term as well. Too often, employees don’t understand the vision of a company and how their day-to-day efforts help the firm. They may not be motivated to work as a result, feeling that their role is pointless or boring.

However, if employees are motivated to come to work, enjoy the environment they’re in, and understand the direction of the company, they’ll better understand their purpose. By understanding their purpose, workers will be much more inclined to work hard, completing high-quality work in a timely fashion. Before hiring a worker and when assigning tasks to the worker, you should clearly explain why the work is so critical.

Not understanding non-verbal communication

Non-verbal cues can include things like:

  • Body language
  • Eye contact
  • Touch
  • Voice
  • Behavior
  • Apparel

It’s much more challenging to communicate non-verbal cues, which means there’s far more room for them to be misinterpreted. A good example of nonverbal miscommunication is if you slouch during a presentation with investors. Even though you are passionate about your project, slouching can give the appearance that you’re lazy, unmotivated, or apathetic toward the project.

The benefits of strong communication

If you have yet to institute a culture of strong communication, you need to consider doing so. That way, your company can reap the benefits of reliable communication.

Build a team

Encouraging team members to talk openly with one another can prevent tension from building. If employees enjoy talking to one another, they’ll be more likely to want to come to work. Communication is critical for team development.

Manage diversity

Sometimes, misinterpretations occur because of differences in cultural or background. Unfortunately, it’s easy for someone of one background to accidentally offend someone from another background without even realizing he or she has done so. As you grow and develop your workplace, make sure you have clear expectations for workplace culture and communicate these expectations to all of your new hires.

Handle problems

Problems are bound to arise when working on a project. Some issues can be small, while others can be much more significant. No matter what type of problem you’re dealing with, effective communication can go a long way toward solving it. The longer you let issues linger, the more likely they are to grow in severity.

Navigate tough times

All businesses — especially start-ups — are bound to run into problems. During these times, employees can grow restless. They may be tempted to leave for other jobs. There may be miscommunications where they think a situation is worse than it actually is. Effective communication will allow you to build trust with your employees, which will go a long way toward helping you navigate rough seas until you reach calmer waters.

Tips to improve workplace communication

Have you recently experienced a communication issue at your company? Inadequate communication can slow your business operations to a grinding halt. Consider implementing some of these tips into your workplace to help avoid miscommunication.

Practice active listening

The art of active listening includes paying close attention to what another person is saying then paraphrasing what you’ve heard and repeating it back. Concentrate on the conversation at hand and avoid unwanted interruptions (cell phone calls, others walking into your office, etc.). By practicing active listening during a conversation, you’ll improve your:

  • Concentration
  • Understanding
  • Response
  • Memory of the conversation

Active listening is a useful technique that can help ensure employees are on the same page with one another.

Distractions are easy to come by in the workplace. Emphasizing active listening not only creates a workplace environment full of respect, it cuts down on miscommunication as well.

Discuss expectations

Before launching a new project, a business owner or project manager should go to each team member involved in the project and talk about his or her specific tasks and objectives. The owner or leader should clearly define expectations and how the worker will fit in with the rest of the team. Allow the team member to ask questions and clarify anything that’s unclear.

You should do this any time there’s a change to a project. The longer you wait to make changes, the more difficult it is because the work has already become more permanent. Imagine that you’re building a house. It will be easier to fix something on the foundation before you put the walls and roof on than it will be after.

Consider this analogy — you’re walking to a target that’s ten feet away. However, while walking, you are thrown off course a little bit. You end up close to your target, but you’re a couple of inches to the right of it. This isn’t a big deal, and it’s easy to fix. However, imagine that the target was 1,000 feet away, and you continued on your course. By the time you traveled 1,000 feet, the target would be nowhere in sight.

This example demonstrates why communicating is so important. Recognizing a mistake at the end of a project is far more detrimental than recognizing it in the moment.

As soon as you recognize a mistake, you should communicate the change to the entire team. If you only let one person know about the change, the rest of the team is still prone to making the same mistake over and over again.

Take responsibility

In any miscommunication, there are at least two parties involved. To avoid misunderstandings, take responsibility for clearly explaining the requirements of the project to the other person. If you do this in a trusting, non-confrontational way, you’ll end up encouraging the other person to take responsibility for his or her part. The more accountability you have in your workplace culture, the better off you’ll be.

Pay attention to non-verbal cues

Examples of miscommunication don’t always involve verbal cues. Every conversation comes with a host of non-verbal cues — facial expressions, body language, etc. — that someone can unintentionally interpret the wrong way. It could be as simple as something like accidentally rolling your eyes when saying something, making it appear that what you’re describing isn’t important.

Before addressing a staff member or leading a project conference, think carefully about how you make eye contact and what your body is “saying.” Be consistent throughout your pitch.

Watch your tone and delivery

Another thing to consider is the tone of voice you use during your delivery. If you’re too jovial, friendly, or sarcastic, people may misinterpret what you’re saying or not take your message seriously. Make sure you use a professional tone of voice when delivering messages and encourage your team to do the same.

Be clear and to the point

Don’t cloud instructions or requests with irrelevant details, such as problems with past projects or issues with long-departed personnel. Instead, be concise and direct to help deliver a clear message. State what you need and what you expect. Ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” Demonstrate that you prefer questions up-front so that everyone can get on the same page.

Additionally, make sure you speak to your audience.  Business jargon can be challenging to those who aren’t familiar with it. If you’re a doctor, you’re not going to use highly-advanced medical terms when describing a situation to a neighbor you run into at the grocery store. Avoid using complicated new words when delivering messages. Making the message as transparent as possible will make it easier for others to understand.

Invest in workplace communication

As a business owner, you oversee everything in the company. Not only do you control tangible things, like keeping track of business funds, but you also manage and set examples regarding intangible things as well. One of the intangibles you should seek to improve in your company is miscommunication.

Creating a culture where employees communicate effectively with one another can help your business thrive. By better understanding what causes people to miscommunicate and what you can do to prevent those things from happening, you’ll be in a much better position to improve your company culture.

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