5 common examples of miscommunication to steer clear of

Louisa Ajami

Miscommunication causes more confusion, lost hours, and hurt feelings than almost any other type of cultural gap at work.

So what can you and your colleagues do to facilitate greater understanding among your team members and other key stakeholders?

We’ll define and explore the types, causes and examples of miscommunication below.

What is miscommunication?

Miscommunication arises when individuals or groups connect, but one or more of the people involved does not fully understand what has been said or written. 

Because most miscommunications go undetected, conversations and even projects can continue for a long time without anyone noticing that they are referring to completely different things. 

Examples of miscommunication

Coworkers walking, talking about examples of miscommunication and having coffee

The following are some common causes and examples of miscommunication, and ways to prevent them from spiraling into confusing and misleading situations:

1. Inferences

This is when you draw your own conclusion based on a fact, but your conclusion may or may not be accurate.

For Example:

  • Fact: It is annual review time in your company.
  • Fact: Your supervisor has been smiling and joking all day.
  • Inference: You will be getting a raise.

It’s easy to see how the inference you made could lead to some serious confusion and hurt feelings if it were incorrect.

2. Word definition confusion: 

Consider that many common words can have multiple meanings.

For Example:

  • In this sentence, the word “sanction” has two opposite meanings: Janette was sanctioned for proceeding on the project without the proper sanction from her manager.
  • And in this scenario, a confusing word in English can be perceived as the opposite of what was intended: Ralph noted his team’s “invaluable contribution” to the project. Some team members believed Ralph thought their contribution was not valuable.

3. Perception

When you and the person you’re talking to interpret the same thing in a different manner.

For Example:

Jagruta knew that Adi was working hard on the new project and wanted to let him know that she appreciated his dedication. She singled him out during the weekly company meeting and presented Adi with a plaque honoring his dedication to the company. 

While Jagruta felt this was a nice gesture of gratitude, Adi was embarrassed that he, instead of the entire project team, received the reward. He also worried his teammates would resent him.

4. Non-verbal cues

If you miss a nonverbal cue someone is conveying to you, you may misread their point.

For Example:

During negotiations, Hans spoke in a direct tone and made steady eye contact with Pei. She was not used to this communication style and felt as if Hans was being aggressive in his approach.

5. Cultural differences: 

When you speak in a certain way to a person, they interpret it through a cultural lens, which may skew its meaning or distract them from your point.

For example:

Marco was trying to convey to his manager Mila that his team was behind on the project deadline. When Mila asked if the team would have the project in, Marco spoke in a roundabout way to avoid saying “no” directly, which he felt uncomfortable doing. 

“We are working hard,” he said while avoiding eye contact. Mila left the conversation with the impression the project would be finished on time.

Understand the causes of miscommunication 

As you can see, there are plenty of ways for miscommunication to happen, and plenty of potential problems that can follow.

Keep the above examples of miscommunication in mind and try to spot differences in communication style on your team, no matter whether you're working together in-person or doing remote work.

By learning how to identify miscommunications and their causes, you can avoid them and prevent the lost time and hurt feelings they can cause.

Discover how we can help you leverage cultural differences and similarities to create a successful and thriving workplace.

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