Communication is part and parcel of our daily lives, but not all of us are effective communicators, and very few people will admit as such. The report, “The State of Miscommunication: 6 Insights on Effective Workplace Communication”, revealed that approximately half of the 1,344 employees surveyed have “great” or “excellent” conversations at work, with their peers and with their managers. The other half rated their conversations as “mediocre,” “poor” or “bad.” The same study also showed a positive correlation between employee engagement and the quality of the conversations. In “The Cost of Poor Communications”, David Grossman reported that among 400 companies surveyed, each with 100,000 employees, the average cost of miscommunication per company is $62.4 million per year.
With such heavy costs involved, why is it that miscommunication is still so common at the workplace? According to the Quantum-Fierce survey, people tend to distance themselves from the problem; they believe that “they are never, almost never, or rarely directly involved in workplace miscommunication”. Is that really the case? It is easy to play the blame game, but if the root cause is not correctly identified, any efforts to curb miscommunication will only go to waste.
What is Effective Communication?
Before we go further, let us have a common understanding of what effective communication is. Effective Communication, as defined by Business Jargons, is a communication between two or more persons with the intended message being successfully conveyed, received and understood. It is a two-way interaction that relies on both the sender and the receiver. With this in mind, all parties have a part to play in the event of a communication breakdown. In addition, leaders of an organization play a critical role to encourage effective communication: they have the power to shape the company culture where open and honest conversations are the norm.
When there is effective communication, employees have a better connection to their teams, the work they do, and the organization as a whole.
Common Causes of Miscommunication
- Misaligned Vocabulary
According to the Global Language Monitor, a new English word is created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. With so many words to choose from, vocabulary that is preferred by one person is more likely than not to be different from another person. Even for the same words used, connotative meanings differ from one person to another as a result of their cultural and background differences. To add to this, people within a closed group develop their own set of terminologies and expressions that external parties will find hard to understand completely. One example of this is the use of acronyms—while they save time and help with memory recall, not everyone recognizes what they stand for, and failure to provide their meanings is something that happens very often.
With all the above factors coming into play, a simple message can end up carrying diverse meanings to two or more persons.
Have you ever met someone who is so direct in his or her communication and ends up upsetting other people frequently? Or do you find it tiring to talk to someone who expects you to keep reading between the lines? Miscommunication is often the result of a message that was not delivered explicitly enough to the receiver, especially so if the sender wanted to appear polite. While this is inevitable, it will be a good idea to review your message, determine the context where it will be used, and check if you can make it less implicit for your audience.
Having said that, we should be aware not to end up over-explaining things, turning a simple instruction into a 2-page essay. Too much information creates a disengaged audience and defeats the purpose of communication.
- Non-verbal Language
It is well known that a large percentage of the meaning we derive from communication comes from the non-verbal aspects, which include, but are not limited to, facial expressions, the tone, and pitch of the voice, body gestures (kinesics), and the physical distance between the communicators (proxemics). Back in the days when technology was still very limited, people interacted mostly at a level where they were able to hear the voice of the speaker and/or see him or her physically. However, in recent years, email and text have become increasingly common modes of communication, taking away the non-verbal components that people used to rely heavily on to interpret a message.
Communicating clearly is one of the most effective skills you can cultivate Remember to communicate using nonverbal and verbal cues. Listen carefully to what others have to say, and over-communicate in novel ways to ensure the content of the conversation sticks with the audience.