Miscommunication at Work: Examples and Tips

It's vital to be aware of the common causes of miscommunication and how you can improve and prevent such instances at the office. Take a look below!

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Colleagues having miscommunication issues and seeming frustrated with each other

Career experts note that a key soft skill – communication – has been steadily declining in recent years. Miscommunication has become far too common in the workplace, whether that’s because we have lost the art of conversation or we are too glued to our screens to engage with each other.

But while this might seem like an inconsequential trend, it could have long-lasting consequences for your career, colleagues, team project and the company. Put simply, it might be time to start brushing up on your communication skills to ensure that you will avoid mishaps.

Lucky for you, we have compiled a guide on everything you need to know about miscommunication at the office and how you can avoid it.

The cost of workplace miscommunication

Workplace miscommunication can create a domino effect as one instance leads to another and this can quickly impact workplace relationships and dynamics.

It could also give the wrong impression to upper management, making them think that you are not invested in the company which could affect your job security.

Ultimately, a communication barrier or an instance of miscommunication can affect the workflow of an entire team and could lead to project completion delays, failed corporate pursuits to attract new clients and lost revenue. This, in turn, could lead to a snowball effect as this could then result in higher stress levels, low morale and resentment among personnel.

Examples of workplace miscommunication

Let’s be honest: You could pen an entire book about the myriad of instances when there was miscommunication at the office, resulting in an unfortunate series of events. We have put together a list of five examples of workplace miscommunication that you might be all too familiar with.  

1. Poor word usage

Not everyone can be Jane Austen or a Henry Higgins, but basic writing skills are critical for effective communication and a successful career. While it is not a prerequisite to compose an email or write a memo in the same tone as Henry James, it is essential that you can communicate effectively when writing to your coworkers.

There can be stark differences in words and phrases that, although may be synonymous, each have different connotations. Moreover, it can often be the case where someone is not concise with the point they are trying to make causing them to ramble on and lose the recipient’s attention. In the end, this could lead to things getting lost in translation.

2. Lack of clarity

Oftentimes, it can seem like your colleague is skipping over crucial parts or not making themselves clear about what they need from you. This can be the case when a team leader's expectations are not expressed properly or a subordinate's interaction with a client and their wishes are not conveyed correctly.

This breakdown of communication can stem from the lack of clear and concise language, which can then negatively affect the growth of staff members and cause certain assignments to become stunted.

3. Micromanaging

Be it small business owners or corporate team supervisors, micromanagers are prevalent in every work setting and dealing with them can be a frustrating and impossible situation.

Micromanagement at the workplace can also be a form of miscommunication. This is because leaders with micromanagement tendencies fail to effectively communicate their needs and expectations to their team. So, when they start trying to micromanage this can also result in employees shutting down and focusing on something else that they can achieve autonomously. As a result, there is a lack of clear communication and synchronicity as everyone ends up doing their own things and veering away from what needs to be achieved.

4. Non-verbal communication mishaps

It is said that most communication we do in our day-to-day life is non-verbal. This usually portrayed through our body language.

It does make sense when you become more aware of how you convey yourself through your body language: slouching at a meeting, not making eye contact with a customer or folding your arms when talking to your boss. These are all little things that could send the wrong message to anyone who is observing you from afar or interacting with you directly.

In order to achieve effective communication non-verbally, you need to dress for the part, sit straight, maintain steady eye contact with others and appear engaged in your discussion with them.

5. Lack of communication

You could argue that no communication is the most significant form of miscommunication. By refraining to talk about issues, find solutions about ongoing problems or simply air out grievances, you create a major communication gap.

Unfortunately, not talking it out could exacerbate the myriad of issues impacting your professional career or your company. Have a question? Ask. Have some advice? Offer. Unsure if a customer is satisfied? Inquire.

How to avoid workplace miscommunication

Now that you have familiarized yourself with examples of workplace miscommunication, the next step is to learn how you can avoid and address these sorts of challenges at the office. Are you unsure of what to do? Here are five tips that will help you avoid miscommunication.

1. Write better emails

Let's face it: writing emails has become an exact science. When you want to communicate something to the recipient, it is best to avoid long-winded messages, emojis, exclamation points, and unprofessional formats.

You need to get straight to the point to get your message across. One more thing: be sure to double check what you wrote on Grammarly or re-read what you penned before hitting ‘Send’.

2. Pay attention to non-verbal cues

Do you usually pick up on non-verbal cues? Paying attention to people’s body language and actions at the office is important when it comes to avoiding miscommunication. A lack of eye contact, staring at their phone during a powwow or even a grunge appearance that is totally out of character are all aspects you should consider when picking up on another person’s non-verbal cues.

3. Talk it out with your superiors

One of the reasons for The Great Resignation is that employees feel overworked and underappreciated by employers and companies. At the same time, before submitting your letter of resignation, it’s important to first talk to your employer about burnout and any other grievance you may have.

It is vital to engage with your boss, manager or superior about concerns you may have regarding your experience at the office. Even if your requests fall on deaf ears, you can take solace in the fact that you tried and were honest with your needs.

4. Discuss expectations

A common phrase in the business world is “on a need-to-know basis.” This can be extremely frustrating for workers at all levels because being left in the dark can be disrespectful or might affect your efficiency on a project.

Whatever the case may be, not knowing what is expected of employees or what the broader goals of a company are can diminish camaraderie and team spirit. It’s crucial, then, that expectations are discussed between your team, company and clients to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

5. Be responsible for your actions

In the end, one of the most effective techniques of communicating effectively is to take responsibility for your actions.

We all make mistakes; this is why they put erasers on the back of pencils and added the backspace button on our keyboards. Unfortunately, many of us fail to heed this advice, leading to lack of accountability, which then manufacture a series of other problems. Ultimately, it is crucial to admit when you were wrong and learn how you can prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.

Final thoughts

Miscommunication can lead to a series of incidents in the workplace and result in a host of situations, leaving us questioning our own intellect, common sense and, of course, communication skills. That said, by following these steps, you can ensure that you will share clear information, engage with your peers effectively, and advance a common cause – at home and at the office.

Join the conversation! How has miscommunication affected you at work? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 6 November 2014.