Unraveling the Mystery of Miscommunication

By Published On: February 27th, 2023Categories: Leadership Solutions760 words3.8 min read

Communication always comes with a level of messiness and ambiguity. Even with the best of intentions and clearest of communication we can portray mixed messages, leading to misunderstandings or conflict. Add to that the array of communication platforms we deal with: team meetings, email, Zoom, Slack, phone calls, and of course the passing remarks that occur when we’re working with others on site. The opportunity for miscommunications is introduced during all hours of the workday.

Miscommunications are also at the root of distrust, misled beliefs, and conflict, especially in a corporate culture.  While managing these issues may feel overwhelming and tedious, there are substantial long-term effects to glazing over unclear communication. The impact can be detrimental to employees—and the company as a whole. I wrote about a personal experience of this which provides a crystal-clear example of how innocently miscommunication can occur and strategies for mitigating the damage whether you’re the one who’s hurt or the one who’s been wrongly accused.

The fast story is that my then-6-year-old daughter had painted a precious picture of a blue dog in school. However, while I was admiring it, she heard me say I didn’t like Blue Dog. Little did she know (and how could she?), that I was talking about a restaurant named Blue Dog which I wasn’t fond of, not her work of art. My daughter carried what she heard with her for two weeks – often exhibiting irritation – before she felt enough courage to ask me about it. While we resolved the misunderstanding, there was much to be learned from that exchange. Read more in my article Lessons on Corporate Conflict Management from My 6-year-old

When we are looking at miscommunication, what happened with my daughter isn’t so far off from what can happen at work. Someone says something we take to mean they are upset with us or disappointed in our work, performance, or attitude. Or, perhaps, it’s the off-color wording of an email, a quick hang-up during a phone call, or what feels like a dismissive lack of eye contact.

Before we know it, we’ve crafted an entire story about one interaction. He thinks I don’t know what I’m doing, or She thinks all millennials are below her. This is more evidence of a culture that doesn’t respect diversity. This sort of snap judgment festers, sourly affecting our mood, energy, productivity, and many other interactions throughout the day. Worse still, we may even use this information to expand our belief about the other person, or organization, further exacerbating the problem.

Brené Brown in her book, Dare to Lead describes it like this: Our default when we are in the midst of struggle and lack data is to make up a story that makes sense of what’s happening. This way of creating our own (often false) information allows us to self-protect. The natural confabulation of events that occurs is harmful both to our own psyche, and to everyone around us.

The truth is that, yes, it can be easy to misconstrue what someone says or does.  But assuming and jumping to conclusions does nothing to resolve it. The key to maintaining a healthy work environment is staying in a place of curiosity. When something doesn’t seem right or fair; when you feel wronged or take offense at a comment or action, take steps to learn more.  Ask questions, listen earnestly, and leave space for the other person to offer their honest explanation. As I bring up in my book Find Fix Fill your Leadership Gap, vindicate, don’t villainize. Believe that people come into situations with good intentions. Be understanding that sometimes our friends and colleagues have “off” days, or that we truly do not have the full picture of the situation we are reacting to.

There is tremendous benefit to simply asking, “Would you mind explaining what you meant by that?” Not in an accusatory way, but from a place of legitimate curiosity, of wanting to clear the air and understand where someone else is coming from.

Those who lean into the messiness and uncertainty of communication often find the most success and build the healthiest work environments. No, it’s not easy to be bold and to calmly address things that upset us, but the reward is certainly worth it. Miscommunication can be removed –it simply requires us to be honest with our feelings, and willing to engage in courageous and open communication.

ORIGINAL POST By Candice Published On: January 31st, 2019