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Communication

How To Avoid Miscommunication at Work (With Examples and Strategies)

As we work from home more, miscommunication at work is more common than ever. Read our guide with examples and strategies.

From our “Myths vs. Reality: Hybrid and Remote Management” research, one thing is clear: hybrid and remote managers feel confident they have what it takes to successfully manage their teams.

One thing stood out as a challenge, however, in managing hybrid remote teams: avoiding miscommunication

From your peers’ feedback, the absence of face-to-face interactions has led to miscommunication and misunderstandings among team members. Some managers in our study also noted that less verbal communication could lead to conflicts and confusion.

The cost of miscommunication at work

Effective communication has always been critical for productive teams and companies. According to recent Forbes research amongst 1,000 professionals in the US, miscommunication negatively affects 89% of the workforce. 

Bad communication impacts employees negatively across everything we know is important for a strong team that’s happily delivering great work:

  • 49% of respondents said miscommunication negatively impacts performance
  • Nearly 50% of respondents reported that ineffective communication impacted job satisfaction
  • 42% of employees said bad communication affected their stress levels.

On the flipside, according to various studies, great team communication boosts employee morale, employee engagement, productivity, satisfaction, and team collaboration.


What is miscommunication in the workplace?

Before we dive in further, let’s define miscommunication at work. 

Simply said, miscommunication at work is when there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is understood during a dialogue, like instructions from a manager to a team member. 

Miscommunication at work is when there’s a gap between what is said and what is understood.

Miscommunication in the workplace happens when people, including managers and employees, can’t convey their thoughts, instructions, or ideas clearly, concisely, and easily understandable to others. 

Now that remote work statistics show us we’ll never return to the office full-time and we often collaborate across geographical boundaries and time zones, effective communication has become even more essential for productivity and success. 

Understanding and proactively managing miscommunication is critical to fostering a productive and harmonious work environment in this evolving professional landscape. 

That’s exactly why we developed this guide to level you up in the communication department and improve employee productivity.

The difference between misunderstanding and miscommunication

Miscommunication and misunderstanding are related but distinct concepts in the context of workplace communication – so let’s clear up any confusion there may be:

Miscommunication

  • Miscommunication occurs when the sender of a message (e.g., a manager) conveys information in a way that is unclear, ambiguous, or not effectively delivered to the receiver (e.g., a team member).
  • It often involves issues such as using jargon or terminology that is not understood by the recipient, failing to provide sufficient context, or using a communication channel that is inappropriate for the message.
  • Miscommunication can lead to confusion, misinterpretation, and mistakes in the workplace.

Misunderstanding

  • Misunderstanding, on the other hand, happens when the receiver of a message does not correctly interpret or grasp its intended meaning, even if it was communicated clearly.
  • It can result from various factors, including differences in cultural background, prior experiences, or personal biases that affect how the message is perceived.
  • Misunderstanding can occur even when communication is well-crafted, and the fault lies in the receiver's interpretation.

The difference between misunderstanding and miscommunication is that miscommunication primarily focuses on the effectiveness of the sender's communication, emphasizing how well they convey their message, while misunderstanding relates to the receiver's interpretation and comprehension of the message, highlighting how accurately they grasp the intended meaning. 

Both can lead to breakdowns in communication and, if not addressed, can hinder productivity and collaboration in the workplace. So, let’s get to work and avoid both! 


Common Reasons and Cures for Miscommunication

How miscommunication happens

While your instructions may be clear, your team member may think otherwise. To understand how miscommunication happens, let’s channel some empathy and look at it from our team member’s perspective:

Imagine your team member is working from home, and you send them a message outlining a new project. You’re excited and type away, explaining the project's ins and outs. Your team member reads it, but something doesn't quite click.

Here's how miscommunication can sneak in:

Ambiguity in Messages

In our virtual world, messages can sometimes lack the nuances of face-to-face conversations. Your excitement might come through as hurried typing, making key details unclear.

Assumptions

We all have our unique perspectives, right? You might assume your team member understands certain terms or processes, but you're not on the same page.

Digital Overload

In remote work, our inboxes and chat apps are constantly buzzing, leading to digital overload. Amid the digital noise, your team member might miss an important message or misplace it in a sea of notifications. That's a recipe for miscommunication.

Time Zones and Availability

With hybrid and remote work, teams span different time zones. You may send an urgent message while your team member enjoys their evening, causing delays and confusion.

Tech Hiccups

Sometimes, technology decides to play tricks on us. Video calls freeze, audio drops, and documents get lost in the digital abyss. These tech hiccups can disrupt smooth communication.

Generational Differences

Different generations may have varying preferences for communication, from face-to-face interactions to digital platforms. Terminology that’s totally obvious for Millennials may leave Gen Z’s dazed and confused. 

Leadership Challenges

Good communication means you know what you’re trying to say. This means that the better you are at managing remote teams, the easier solid remote communication will be.

Cultural Diversity

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been in the spotlight recently, and for good reason. Especially when you’re leading a diverse hybrid or remote team, there may be cultural differences you may be missing out on. Understanding each team member’s cultural background deeply is key to avoiding miscommunication.

Undercommunication

Less is not always more. In communication, being exhaustive is important – especially if you can’t give quick context or feedback like you would in the office. To avoid miscommunication, being comprehensive in what you say is important.

How electronic miscommunication gets caused

Miscommunication in the hybrid and remote work setting often happens because of unclear messages, differing assumptions, digital distractions, time zone challenges, and the occasional tech hiccup. 

It's not about pointing fingers; it's about recognizing these pitfalls and finding ways to bridge the gaps for more effective communication in our ever-evolving work landscape.

10 examples of miscommunication in the workplace

As you can see, it’s totally understandable why even the most experienced managers struggle to avoid miscommunication at work when managing hybrid and remote teams. With less time than ever and more challenges to communicate well, misunderstandings are due to creep in.

To bring the ideas to life even more, let’s look at ten examples of how miscommunication can happen in the hybrid and remote workplace and strategies to avoid it.

Example 1: Misunderstood Deadline

Scenario: In a hybrid team, the manager sends a task deadline via email to remote and in-office employees. However, the message doesn't specify the time zone for the deadline, leading to confusion. Some remote workers complete the task based on their own time zone, causing delays.

Strategy: Specify the time zone when communicating deadlines, ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding timing.

Example 2: Technical Glitch During a Virtual Presentation

Scenario: During an important virtual presentation to a hybrid audience, the manager experiences a technical glitch that disrupts the audio. They try to communicate the issue via chat, but some remote attendees miss the message, leading to confusion about the presentation's progress.

Strategy: Establish a backup communication plan for technical issues, such as sharing the presentation slides in advance and providing a designated chat channel for troubleshooting.

Example 3: Incomplete Handover of Responsibilities

Scenario: A hybrid employee is about to take a week off and communicates their handover plan to their manager via chat. However, they forgot to mention a critical client meeting scheduled for that week, resulting in missed client communication during their absence.

Strategy: Implement a standardized handover checklist that includes all critical tasks and meetings, ensuring nothing is overlooked during employee absences.

Example 4: Misinterpreted Tone in Written Communication

Scenario: A manager sends a detailed email to a remote employee providing constructive feedback on a project. The employee misinterprets the manager's tone as overly critical due to the absence of facial expressions and vocal cues, leading to unnecessary anxiety and defensiveness.

Strategy: Encourage remote employees to seek clarification when in doubt and use clear and positive language in written feedback to avoid misinterpretation.

Example 5: Unclear Instructions for Virtual Team Building

Scenario: The manager plans a virtual team-building activity for the hybrid team. They send a brief email with minimal instructions, assuming everyone understands. However, some remote team members feel lost during the activity, leading to reduced engagement and frustration.

Strategy: Provide detailed instructions and expectations for virtual activities in advance and clear guidelines on participating, fostering better engagement.

Example 6: Misplaced File in Shared Drive

Scenario: A remote team member uploads an important project file to a shared drive. They inform the team via chat, but the file is mistakenly placed in the wrong folder. As a result, team members struggle to locate the file, causing delays and frustration.

Strategy: Establish a structured file organization system and communicate it clearly to the team, minimizing the chances of misplaced files.

Example 7: Misheard Instructions During a Virtual Call

Scenario: In a hybrid team meeting, the manager gives verbal instructions for an upcoming project. Due to a poor internet connection for some remote team members, they mishear the details, resulting in incorrect project execution.

Strategy: Record important virtual meetings and share the recordings afterward, allowing remote team members to review and clarify missed instructions.

Example 8: Overlooking Remote Employee Input

Scenario: In-office employees actively contribute ideas in person during a hybrid team brainstorming session. However, they unintentionally overlook the input of remote team members attending virtually, causing those remote members to feel excluded.

Strategy: Facilitate equal participation by setting ground rules for meetings, encouraging remote team members to contribute, and acknowledging their input during discussions.

Example 9: Inconsistent Use of Communication Tools

Scenario: The team uses multiple team communication tools, including email, chat, and a project management platform. Some employees rely heavily on email for updates, while others use chat. This inconsistency leads to missed messages and fragmented communication.

Strategy: Establish communication protocol guidelines, including preferred tools for specific purposes, and ensure consistent adoption across the team.

Example 10: Misinterpreted Emoticons in Chat Messages

Scenario: A team member uses a sarcastic emoticon, intending humor during a chat discussion. However, another team member interprets it as genuine criticism, leading to tension and misunderstandings.

Strategy: Promote the use of clear and unambiguous language in written communication, emphasizing the importance of considering context when interpreting messages containing emoticons.

15 ways to avoid miscommunication in the workplace

Now that we’ve seen how easy it is to create misunderstanding in the workplace, let’s dive into ways to avoid miscommunication. It may sound like it would take a lot of time to implement these efforts. Still, given the high cost of miscommunication, we’re confident following these best practices will positively impact your team’s ability to perform and enjoy their work. 

Avoid Unclear Expectations:

Communicate your expectations to all team members, ensuring everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, leaving no room for assumptions.

Promote Open and Honest Communication:

Foster an open and honest communication culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, preventing misunderstandings from hidden concerns.

Utilize Multiple Communication Channels:

Employ various team communication tools like email, internal SMS, and group messages to ensure comprehensive information dissemination and prevent communication gaps.

Provide Regular Feedback:

Regularly offer positive and constructive feedback to help employees understand their performance and reduce conflicts arising from unclear feedback.

Hold Regular Meetings:

Conduct frequent team meetings, whether virtually or in person, to discuss important matters thoroughly, ensuring alignment and reducing the risk of miscommunication.

Communicate Clearly and Concisely:

Keep communication clear and concise, avoiding jargon and complex language to enhance understanding and eliminate potential sources of confusion.

Listen Actively:

Actively listen to what others are saying, paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues, and offering feedback to enhance clarity and understanding.

Ask Questions for Clarification:

Encourage asking questions when in doubt, emphasizing the importance of seeking clarification to ensure messages are correctly understood.

Avoid Making Assumptions:

Discourage making assumptions about others' thoughts or intentions, promoting a culture of seeking clarification when information is unclear.

Select Appropriate Communication Channels:

Choose communication channels that best suit the message and audience, avoiding mismatched mediums that could lead to confusion.

Confirm Understanding:

Verify that the recipient has correctly understood your message, especially for critical information, by asking them to summarize or provide feedback.

Provide Context:

Offer context to help recipients understand the message's importance and relevance to their roles or responsibilities.

Avoid Multitasking:

Focus on the conversation without distractions or multitasking, as it demonstrates respect for the speaker and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings.

Refrain from Interrupting:

Allow others to finish speaking before responding, preventing interruptions that can disrupt the flow of communication and lead to misunderstandings.

Maintain Respectful Communication:

Always communicate respectfully and considerately, avoiding confrontational language and maintaining a positive tone to foster stronger team relationships.

Following these guidelines will impact significantly to avoiding miscommunication and promote effective communication within your workplace. That should improve the experience for everyone – your team will thank you for it! 

Wrapping up 

To conclude, preventing miscommunication in the workplace is a crucial step towards creating a productive and cohesive experience for your hybrid or remote team. The high cost of miscommunication through lower job satisfaction and performance, and increased stress levels, emphasizes the urgency of avoiding miscommunication.

Throughout this guide, we’ve seen how easily miscommunication can infiltrate our daily work lives. By putting into practice the 15 best methods we have outlined, such as promoting transparent and honest communication, utilizing multiple communication channels, and confirming mutual understanding, we’re sure you’ll rock it and reduce miscommunication significantly.

Keep in mind that clear communication is the bridge that connects your vision with your team's success. Your commitment to fostering this connection will undoubtedly lead to a more fulfilling work journey for everyone involved.

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