How to Avoid Miscommunication in the Workplace
Miscommunication is an issue for all types of companies and teams — big, small, distributed, co-located… you name it.
Here are a few tips on how you can minimize miscommunication in your team and safeguard (=protect) yourself from having to deal with the consequences of failing to communicate clearly.
#1 Don’t assume
There is a saying in English: “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me”. Sounds pretty harsh (=aggressive, rude), but there is some truth to that.
Assuming means thinking that something is true without any actual proof. For example, when writing an email to a new team member you might assume that they already know as much about the project as you do and fail to give them the information they need to understand your email.
Or when giving a technical task to a colleague, you might assume that they have the exact same vision and idea of what needs to be done and, once again, fail to describe the key details.
Making assumptions often leads to setbacks, misunderstanding, and in worst cases, frustration (=the feeling of anger and disappointment) and burnout within the team.
What you want to do instead of making assumptions:
- Communicate clearly so there is no room for interpretation (=ways to understand the same message in different ways).
- Be specific when you communicate.
Remember that even though overcommunicating might waste a little bit of your time, under communicating is guaranteed to waste a LOT of your time.
- Put yourself in other people’s shoes (=try to understand other people and their perspectives).
Acknowledge (=realize) that others probably have a different way of thinking at looking at things.
- Recap (=summarize) as often as possible. For example, when you are finished with a discussion, summarize the main takeaways (=key points) to see if everyone is on the same page.
In order to avoid making assumptions, it’s also important to ask the right questions which brings us to the next tip.
#2 Ask questions
Develop a habit of always asking questions to make sure you understand others and get your point across (= communicate or explain your point) successfully. It’s an essential habit to have if you work in an international English-speaking environment.
Here are some examples of good questions to ask.
Questions to check if other people understood you
- Does this make sense?
- How do you feel about that?
- Do you have any questions so far?
- Would it be ok if (we completed this project a little later)?
Please avoid asking the question “Is it clear?” as it makes you sound bossy and rude — use any of the questions above instead.
Questions to clarify your understanding
- Do you mean (we should keep looking for alternative solutions)?
- Do you want me to (roll back these changes)?
- Is your idea to (get a corporate partner for this event)?
- Just for me to be clear (are we going to use these mockups)?
#3 Don’t forget about a call to action
Every work conversation should wrap up (=finish) with a call to action. That goes both for email and in-person communication.
Make sure you clearly define what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who is responsible for it.
It’s very important that there is someone on the team who feels personal responsibility for a certain task. When responsibility is shared or the task is not clearly defined, people tend to be hesitant (=unsure) to make decisions or take the initiative.
#4 Explain why
Explaining why you want something done or why you have a certain opinion is part of polite etiquette in English. When you answer the question “why?”, it shows that you trust the other person and treat them with respect and honesty.
Can we cancel tomorrow’s meeting? — a bit rude, no explanation why we need to cancel.
Can we cancel tomorrow’s meeting? We need more time to research the solution. — polite and friendly, you explain why you want this done.
I don’t really like this landing page. — the feedback isn’t useful. There is no explanation for why you don’t like it.
I don’t really like this landing page because it has too much text that’s hard to read .— the feedback is constructive. You explain why you don’t like something.
When explaining “why”, you might want to use the following connective words:
Example: Could you send me the screenshot of the problem so that I could better understand the issue?
Since (in the meaning of “because”)
Example: Maybe we should try to get a guest speaker since this is going to be an educational event.
It’s just that (informal)
Example: Could you present the demo today? It’s just that I got a sore throat and I’m not sure I will be able to speak properly at the meeting.
# 5 Document
One thing you should not do is use your head as a storage space (= a place where you store something). Instead, you want to put things in writing and document (=write down) the results of every work discussion and every decision you have reached. This way, you will prevent things from getting lost, improve your productivity, and avoid potential incidents of miscommunication and conflict.
You can literally use any tool you and your team are comfortable with to share and store written notes — a google doc, a slack group, email follow-ups, etc.
Effective communication is about thinking like a native speaker which is exactly what we teach in our English For IT: Communication course. If your goal is to improve your English proficiency while leveling up your soft skills and becoming a better team player at the same time — feel free to check it out!