The Communication Series: Miscommunication (Part Two)
Avoiding crossed wires in the workplace
I sincerely hope you enjoyed the article I published a while back looking at how miscommunication happens. I’m back with Part 2 of our Communication Series, this time with some tips on what you can do to avoid miscommunication in the workplace!
Instances of miscommunication crop up everywhere, and can range from harmless mistakes causing minor misalignments to department-wide disasters and outright conflict. In business, it can even cost a company millions of dollars.
At Mighty Bear Games, miscommunication still strikes now and then (it’d be impossible to eliminate it entirely unless we were all robots!), but we do keep a few standards in place to help us guard against it.
1. Formatting, Formatting, Formatting
Let’s start off with a very visual example of effective communication. The image below says it all:
Just as visual marketing hopes to snare new customers with techniques to draw the eye (think those “UP TO 80% OFF” advertisements you see all the time at warehouse sales), you can apply the same rules in your peer-to-peer communication at work.
It can’t be stressed enough how important layout and design are when it comes to effective written communication. Remember, you are trying to communicate with another (fallible) human being: how you structure your sentences, which words you make bold in your text, breaking large messages down into bullet-point form — ALL OF IT MATTERS.
Use formatting to your advantage. Stay concise and write in a way that uses forms of visual emphasis effectively to ensure people absorb the right information.
2. No Broken Telephones!
If you’ve played the childhood game of ‘Broken Telephone’, you probably already know that information passed along an endless chain of messengers can and WILL cause miscommunication.
At the end of ‘Broken Telephone’, everyone erupts into laughter. If communication is handled this way in the workplace, however, it can end in disaster.
If someone comes to you asking for information you don’t have in full, don’t try answering on someone else’s behalf by filling in the blanks with your own assumptions. Put your ego aside — it’s okay to not know things. If you don’t know, admit you don’t and point the person in the right direction: straight to the person who does.
Don’t try to be the hero that nobody needed; you’ll probably end up the third party that crossed the wires.
3. Listening Actively (and Clarifying While You’re At It)
In our current day and age, with so many tiny distractions vying for our attention, listening actively is becoming an art form. (When it shouldn’t be!)
When you’re listening actively, you allow three crucial things to happen:
- You receive and process the message internally.
- You analyse and comprehend the message.
- You are able to form thoughts, ask questions, or provide your opinion where it matters.
When you’re actively listening, you’re paying attention — no distractions. No interruptions. No loss of focus. No zoning out.
A few handy tips if you’re struggling to keep up with the conversation and you feel like you’re zoning out:
- Mentally repeat what the other person is saying and then clarify out loud. Don’t be afraid to double back and ask things like “Am I understanding you correctly?”
- Force yourself to write down notes and key points.
- If the topic is too difficult to wrap your head around, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask them to explain in layman’s terms, or to use analogies where possible.
- If you’re in a 1-on-1 meeting, at the end of the conversation (especially if there are specific action points), try to summarise the conversation to make clear you have truly understood what’s been said and what next steps have been outlined.
4. Turn On your Webcam—And Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues!
This topic is probably the subject of many other articles, but attending fully to others’ non-verbal cues are super important when it comes to communication. These tend to be communicated instinctively rather than consciously.
There are many types of non-verbal cues:
(For the purpose of this article, I won’t dive into each of them here since there are articles like this one that do the job perfectly. The article also lays out a comprehensive list of how to read certain cues and why they are important.)
- Facial expressions (These can convey a whole host of emotions!)
- Body movement and posture (How people sit, walk, stand, or hold their head)
- Gestures (Hand or arm movements used to emphasise certain points)
- Eye contact (How long, and how confidently, someone holds your gaze directly)
- Physical Touch (Handshakes, etc.)
- Space (Distance kept from one another)
- Voice (Intonation and inflection)
In any situation, you can get at least as much from a person’s non-verbal cues as you can from verbal ones. It is for this same reason that you can tell if someone isn’t feeling alright even though they are insisting they’re “fine”.
This makes turning on your web cameras extra important. If people can visibly see each other in a virtual space, they don’t lose out on the important cues arising from our body language, facial activity, and other key elements of interpersonal exchanges. This can reduce the scope for misunderstanding on both sides — remember, you can make active use of these cues yourself to give your words an extra layer of context!
Webcams also help interaction over the web feel human, rather than just a bunch of pixels on a screen. This is especially important in a world where Work-From-Home setups are a bigger fixture than ever before.
5. An Open Door Policy
One thing to note before we proceed is that an Open Door Policy is hard to inculcate if you don’t have the workplace culture to go with it (hence why I’ve placed it last on the list).
Open Door Policy is a concept that works only if there’s a culture that values mutual support over self-preservation. By this, I mean a culture where:
- Steps are taken to ensure a safe environment and that there is no danger when it comes to speaking up. People at all levels of seniority are not worried about any potential repercussions for voicing questions or concerns that might go against the grain.
- Controversial topics can be addressed in a constructive manner and with respect for everyone’s personal, cultural, and ideological differences.
By having such a culture, a company ensures productive discussions can happen. People are able — in certain cases invited — to challenge each other, ask the right questions, and uncover risks or blind spots in each others’ thinking. Most importantly, there’s a lot of open communication between you, your co-workers and your leadership.
We believe in an open door policy at Mighty Bear Games. The team holds a Weekly Studio Sync every Friday, during which anyone in the team can ask whatever questions they want directly to our CEO, who answers them honestly and to the best of his ability.
Open doors mean important exchanges aren’t prevented by personal fears (of, say, losing one’s job). Ultimately, this transparent and unrestricted form of communication helps us all strive to identify and address underlying issues before things spiral out of control.
That’s all for this instalment of the Communication Series, and a high-level insight into to how we minimise the scope for miscommunication! I hope that you’ve enjoyed the article — feel free leave to leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or questions!
The Communication Series: Miscommunication (Part Two) was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.