Miscommunication happens frequently in life and work, partly because technology allows us to communicate faster, but not necessarily better. While some miscommunications are merely annoying, others can create conflict or be a disrupting influence in relationships.
Based on being both the giver and the recipient of unintended communication gaffes, here are five reasons why I believe they occur, and what to do to prevent them in the future.
Writing or verbalizing what we’re thinking can be challenging, especially if we’re trying to multitask when we shouldn’t.
My team suffers a lot from this when I delegate a task and expect them to know exactly what’s going on in my brain.
The solution is to let others know everything you’re thinking, even if you’re not completely clear on it yourself. The idea is for you to work ideas out together, so you can reach the best possible outcome. I also like to verbalize my instructions as well as write them down in a recap, so others know exactly what I mean. Over the years, this has helped me sound a lot less like a jerk.
In my first business partnership, I would do a brain dump that included things that didn’t need to be said. This not only caused miscommunication, but it also ultimately ended our working arrangement.
I’ve also noticed this occurs with the creative people who have a tendency to cloud their main point with a lot of words that complicates their message.
To master the fine art of getting to the point, write down what you want to say, then start to trim it back until you can create as simple a message without losing the primary idea. You most likely don’t need adjectives or exclamatory phrases to get your point across.
While overthinking your message rarely results in better communication, it’s important to remember that you don’t have any control over what’s happening on the receiving end. If that person is already in a bad mood, they may read something in a way you never intended. Although you can’t control the reaction of the receiver, you can make a concerted effort to take any emotion out of a communication and keep a professional tone in all business communications.
I personally always remember, “You can say anything to anyone, but how you say it will dictate whether you get a positive or negative reaction.”
I’ve used a smiley face to let the person on the other end know I’m pleased with their message. However, when I start seeing texting shortcuts and emojis I’m not familiar with, I don’t know how to take what the person is saying, and I certainly don’t have time to go look up their cutesy emoji.
I was angry one day with an employee. Later that day, when I thought everything had settled down and was okay, she sent me a text with a string of emojis of a baby, baby bottle, a hospital, and a pink bow. I thought, “Oh, so the little snot is calling me a baby! She surely should know it was not wise to call the boss a baby!”
In another conversation over the phone, someone told me how happy that employee was because she had just found out that day about my new baby daughter. But my temper had flared, and I nearly fired her over a message that she intended to be sweet.
Even if you’re well-versed in emoji etiquette, you shouldn’t assume that everyone will know the intent and meaning of acronyms and graphics. Stick to professional language and save the shortcuts for your best buddies.
There are times when people don’t really listen because they think they already know what the person is going to say, or they are busy preparing their own answer. The same idea applies when you assume you know what a person means in their email or text message without actually really reading it for context. It could be that you are tired, emotional, or distracted, or the messages could be coming from someone at work that you don’t necessarily like.
Slow down and read a message more than once while clearing out your assumptions. Focus, reflect, and then read it again before you draw conclusions. If you are still not sure, ask questions to make sure you understood the message correctly. I find people with this skill can be hidden leaders in my company.
Effective communication takes practice. I know haven’t perfected it yet. I do take a step back from a message that made me angry in order to give the person the benefit of the doubt. And I keep these reasons for miscommunication to remind me to take more care in how I read, write, and verbalize what I am sending out or receiving.