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5 Tips For Avoiding Miscommunication in the Workplace

miscommunication, emails

By Guest Contributor

New research into communication in the workplace has revealed that 56% of all workers have committed some kind of miscommunication in the office (defined in the study as unintentionally sending a communication to the wrong person at work).

Communication is a key aspect of your everyday working life but, clearly, there is work to be done when trying to get your point across. Follow these five tips and minimize the likelihood of a misunderstanding in your office.

1. Use the best methods available

Alongside investigating how often miscommunication occurs in the workplace, TollFreeForwarding’s recent research uncovered the mediums with which it takes places.

Email was the chief culprit, with just over a third (34%) saying they’d sent an email to the wrong person when at work. Other platforms where regular miscommunication occurs include texts or instant messages (such as Whatsapp) at 22%.

Despite it probably being your go-to method for communicating in the office (269 billion are sent worldwide every day), email isn’t actually the most efficient way of communicating at work.

This is particularly true when communicating internally, so take a look at which platforms you predominantly use and look to give new ones a try. Try collaboration tools like Skype (which had a much lower 16% miscommunication rate in the survey) or Slack, which are designed for inter-team comms. You could even go a little old-fashioned and encourage more face-to-face communication. Some companies have incorporated tech-free office hours in a bid to encourage more verbal communication.

2. Know your data restrictions

Data compliance is everyone’s responsibility in business, but the research revealed how often information is leaked by employees. Almost a quarter (23%) of the workforce said they had sent some form of confidential information to the wrong person at work. Most of this was personal information about another colleague (13%), but that still leaves 10% of workers who have admitted to miscommunicating confidential business information. This can often be down to not applying the correct level of protection for your data, or simply using the wrong platform. Again, emails aren’t terribly secure, so communicating across them with confidential information can lead to disaster. Be extra vigilant with what you’re saying, who you’re saying it to and what medium you’re using to say it.

3. Separate work and personal communication

Methods for work and personal communication are often blurred. If using instant messaging to chat with others becomes the norm at home, chances are you’ll begin to adopt it in working life.

This does come with its own complications, particularly if you’re using the same device in both instances. Almost one in five (19%) said they’d left a voicemail on a colleague’s mobile phone that it wasn’t intended for, and just over one in five (21%) said they have accidentally sent a photo or video to a colleague.Depending on the content, this can be embarrassing for both the sender and receiver of these communications.

17% of workers said they had sent insulting comments to the wrong person by accident. The majority of these instances (10%) were comments about someone who wasn’t the receiver of the communication, but the remaining 7% admitted to accidentally sending insulting comments about the person who received it.

There are vastly different communicative expectations between work life and home life. Get it wrong, and this can lead to inappropriate content being sent to a colleague at work. To avoid the potential pitfalls, look to separate work and personal communication wherever possible. As an easy starter, pick up a cheap work mobile phone and don’t use your personal email address for any work-based communications.

4. Don’t be afraid to speak up

That last point should be applied as a general rule in your communicative habits. Bad communication at work happens – it’s a skill to get it right and sometimes we fail to hit the mark. This can lead to unwarranted stress, confusion, unclear strategies and missed deadlines.Sometimes, it can be daunting to approach your boss if you didn’t understand their instruction, but it’s a key part of avoiding miscommunication in the office. If in doubt, just ask.

5. Try something new

Like an earlier suggestion, you could choose to switch up your daily communication methods and attempt to loosen your reliance on technology. Frank, face-to-face conversation is always going to be the most efficient way to discuss workplace problems and bring about solutions. So, how can you incorporate more of it into your working day?
An alternative to the tech-free hour mentioned above is the “Scrum” or “Daily Standup”. This is essentially a brief, daily team meeting that gives everyone an opportunity to mention blockages and barriers to success. Issues can be addressed early at the start of the day and you can avoid a back-and-forth email exchange that can so easily be misinterpreted or ignored.

Where miscommunication occurs in the office

Alarmingly, throughout the research conducted, men were found to miscommunicate at work with much more regularity. In every aspect of miscommunication investigated in the survey, men were found to do it more.

Earlier, we said that 56% of workers had miscommunicated in the office – but break it down by gender and the story is different. 70% of men say they have miscommunicated in the office, compared to just 49% of women. The same is true of the method of communication. For example, 43% of men have accidentally sent an email to the wrong person at work – 12 percentage points higher than women.

As for the content of the communication, the trend continues. Over a third of men have accidentally sent some confidential information (35%), almost double that of women (18%). Similarly, more than a quarter of men (26%) have sent insulting comments to the wrong person at work – the same category is just 15% for women.

In summary, women are much better at avoiding miscommunication in the office than their male counterparts – but that too comes with its own risks. To boost productivity and avoid the embarrassing pitfalls of poor office communication, we’ll need to give and take instructions from both men and women. Following the tips above, and encouraging others to do the same, could lead to a decrease in the level of miscommunication we see today.