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Five Common Causes for Destructive Organizational Miscommunication, and How They Can Be Avoided

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From the bottom all the way up, all tiers of the organization thrive on human communication. Team members need to communicate well in order to complete missions and achieve goals. Managers need to communicate well with their employees to drive production. Senior executives must communicate well in order to strategize and steer their respective departments.

In a utopian organization, a positive organizational culture ensures flawless communication between all personnel. Everyone feels free to speak their mind, everybody listens, and everything gets done with ease and simplicity. But as anyone who has ever worked in an organization knows, things just don’t work that way. What is seemingly effective communication might end up becoming rampant miscommunication. Maybe it’s just human nature to misunderstand and be misunderstood. That said, a majority of organizational miscommunication can actually be avoided.

Organizational miscommunication

What Causes Organizational Miscommunication?

Before we start analyzing ways for solving miscommunication, we need to understand what causes it. Here are a few major causes:

  • Inappropriate use of communication mediums: in an era of emails and texts, we often write the same way we talk. Problem is, we expect recipients to understand what we've written, when they often don't have the context that comes with face-to-face interaction. All they have are short sentences on their screen, with no body language or voice tonality. As a result, even the most well-meaning sentences can be completely misconstrued.
  • Shortage of time or patience: when an ominous deadline looms above, the tolerance for explaining things to co-workers is reduced to pulp. When people rush to get things done, they become inefficient communicators. They also tend to become bad listeners.
  • Stressful culture: every organization has a culture, and naturally, some cultures are more empathic and inclusive than others. Stressful cultures are often very result-oriented rather than process-oriented, and thus pay little attention to effective teamwork and communication practices. As a result, things get done, but the effort is often individualistic rather than collaborative.
  • Lack of transparency: when team members or office personnel misunderstand one another, it is often because the message is cloaked in opacity, objectives are unclear and intentions aren't fully revealed. This is typical of organizations that are accustomed to working in silos and thrive on competition.
  • Isolated work environments: when a department relies on its own resources to complete missions and rarely collaborates with other departments, its personnel find it harder and harder to effectively communicate with other people in the organization.

The Destructive Effects of Miscommunication

Miscommunication can have a destructive effect on organizations and their team members. Here are some of the most common outcomes of poorly-understood workplace interactions:

  • Poor employee engagement: when company personnel find it hard to speak their mind, or have little patience for what their colleagues have to say, their engagement and satisfaction levels go down. They recognize this as a negative culture, and stop believing in their organization as a major guiding light.
  • Competitive work environment: imagine a collaborative workspace where everyone works together to achieve a common goal. Now imagine the exact opposite. Miscommunication not only drives people away from collaborating, it actually facilitates a hostile "me-first" approach.
  • Less reliance on collaboration: the most successful organizations in the world utilize cross-department and cross-team efforts to pull off major feats. This requires optimal communication at every level. When miscommunication runs rampant, this reality becomes much harder to imagine. The tendency is to work alone, together with a small group of trusted allies, and rely mostly on yourself. This necessarily means less ideation, less innovation, and less progress.
  • Unfulfilled revenue potential: at the end, it all boils down to the bottom line. When team members communicate well they're happier, they work better, and they achieve outstanding results. When they are misunderstood and feel unpleasant tension, they tend to work alone and achieve less. This is a lose-lose for all parties involved.
organizational miscommunication

How to Avoid Organizational Miscommunication

Organizational miscommunication is not a predestination; rather, it’s more like a bad habit. If only they are acknowledged, bad habits can easily be changed. Here are a few great tips for better communication across all corporate tiers:

  • Increase face-to-face communication: rely less on email and texts. Talk more and listen more to your team members in person. If you're in a different city or country, you can use online meeting and video conferencing technology. When your voice is heard and your face is seen, your message will come across much clearer.
  • Reduce toxic stress: everyone experiences stress at work from time to time. But constant, intense toxic stress makes people irritable, uncommunicative and unresponsive. Reducing stress levels helps team members relax, enjoy their work and focus on process rather than just result. Chances are they'll also gradually prefer meaningful conversations over estranged emails and texts.
  • Encourage collaborations: if your team faces a challenging task, it doesn’t necessarily have to face it alone. Encourage asking other teams or departments for ideas or resources. You won't believe how helpful that can be, and you’ll be amazed at how this will improve your own team's internal communication.
  • Invest in employee engagement: effective employee engagement is one of the strongest pillars of any organization. If you're dealing with large quantities of miscommunication and misunderstood personnel who prefer working alone, then increased employee engagement levels can definitely help. Hire employee engagement professionals to guide you through the process. Invest in employee engagement workshops and in organizational collaboration platforms. Technology can significantly assist in making your team members happier and more engaged.
  • Create an inclusive culture: if you're a CEO or organizational leader, you should make effective communication a top-priority. Luckily, you have the power to gradually transform your organization's culture in accordance with values of inclusion and collaboration. When that happens, miscommunication will naturally decrease, and your teams and team members will seek each other out for mutual empowerment.

Effective communication is imperative for organizational success. Today there is an abundance of advanced collaboration tools that can help organizations work smarter and create better, more communicative environments. Every organization is different; the trick is to find the right formula that works best for yours.
Here’s to great communication!

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