The Communication Series: Why Does Miscommunication Happen? (Part 1)

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

We’ve all experienced miscommunication before — be it in the workplace, relationships, with family, and even when playing with your squad mates in Butter Royale.

There are many reasons why miscommunications happen and I’ve learnt many painful (and some costly) lessons which now help me identify potential problem areas ahead of time. These will not solve or avoid 100% of your communication woes, but they do serve as a good starting point for understanding how they can occur, and in future, how you can better communicate with the people around you.

So why does miscommunication happen?


You know it’s serious business when memes are involved.

Everyone has their own biases and like it or not, everyone makes assumptions.

Has there ever been a moment in your life where a situation goes like this: “I’ve sent out the detailed brief to my outsourcers to work on the banners, I assume they know exactly what I want because it should be all listed in the document.”

And for some reason, when the banners come back, it’s not at all what you wanted?

That’s because both you and the other party made assumptions and worked in silos. And the biggest mistake is that you probably assumed that they would understand exactly what you wanted. For example:

  1. You could have assumed that “orange” was descriptive enough when you could have provided the exact hexadecimal values for the colour of the background and there would be no confusion.
  2. You assumed that you only needed to mention “white bird” and they would automatically know you needed a cartoon-y version of a smiling white swan.

The areas where miscommunication can happen in scenarios like these are endless and in certain cases, it can be extremely costly.

In this case, the cost is the amount of time spent going back and forth to ensure you get right specification that you want, and that the time could have been better spent on some other higher value task.


Context matters.

According to the Oxford dictionary, context is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood”.

One of the frequent causes of miscommunication is that people misunderstand each other because when we don’t provide enough context when we communicate. It leaves the words or text open for interpretation to the one receiving it and more often than not, it leads to the recipient making assumptions (see point 1 above).

It also really does NOT help if you’re speaking to a person whose primary language may not be the same as yours. It’s like a chicken talking to a cow. If you are not clear in the way you speak, you will amplify the problem by a 100-fold.

Just take this phrase for example:

“I am hot.”

It can mean various things:

  • Is the person feeling warm?
  • Does the person think that she/he is attractive?
  • “Hot” is their actual name.

Let’s look at it with more context provided:

“I am feeling hot and I need a cold drink to cool myself down.”

With context provided, you immediately know that:

  1. The person is feeling warm.
  2. The person needs a cold drink.
  3. You can do good and buy the person a drink if you’re feeling generous.

In a business setting, providing context serves as clarification to the recipient and provides better comprehension to a task or responsibility that they need to be accountable for.


Expectations vs Reality when I do yoga. Credits to Adriana Rodríguez León on BoredPanda.

Even with context, all of us can have different expectations despite reading the same text or hearing the same words.

“You need more practice!”

A person who is focused on becoming a better football player might tell themselves that they need to train more regularly — maybe 1–2 times a week instead of fortnightly. But when a world class professional football player hears that, they might be telling themselves that they need to practice their footwork drills another 100 more times within the same day. The expectation that they set upon themselves are quite vast and different from an aspiring wannabe.

The way you interpret a message and the expectations you are formulating in your head are shaped by your own unique perceptions based on variables such as your knowledge, age, upbringing, gender, professional experience, culture, etc. This also applies when you set your expectations on other people based on your own judgement.

It’s important to note that these 3 causes are not the only ways people can miscommunicate with each other. There are many way and reasons for miscommunication to happen.

The most important thing is that you’re able to recognise and pinpoint the problem of why the miscommunication happened in the first place and how you can rectify this and most importantly, stop this from happening again.

Which leads me to my next article!

In the next article, I will be writing on some tips on what you can do to (try your best and) avoid miscommunications from happening in the workplace! Please look out for it and I hope to see you in the next one!

The Communication Series: Why Does Miscommunication Happen? (Part 1) was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.