5 Ways to Avoid Miscommunications
A friend recently called me to get advice on a project that had gone sideways. Although she felt she had done what was asked of her, the submitted project was not received well. The client lambasted her for missing the mark. In dissecting what went wrong, it came down to miscommunications.
I expect miscommunications is at the root of many conflicts in the workplace – and even in our personal lives. Add the fact there are now limited opportunities for face-to-face meetings, miscommunications will likely raise its head more often.
Talking through the project and what went wrong with my friend, we were able to unpack some common traps that led to the miscommunications. These are worth sharing as they are not unique to her situation.
1. Over reliance on email
Way too many projects have gone off the tracks due to emails. While emails are a great way to share information, they are overused and full of pitfalls.
Since 80-90% of communications is non-verbal, removing personal interaction from the mix leaves a lot of room for miscommunications. That witty comment can be read as sarcasm or disrespect. The email you rushed to send off while already thinking of the next task, may have left the recipient scratching their head trying to figure out what you were trying to convey.
I’m not saying you abandon email, rather pick up the phone or schedule a video conference for conversations that require clarity and joint understanding of what’s expected. It’s much easier to talk through a project and detect any confusion when speaking to a person than looking at an email on your screen.
2. Limit cc
I truly believe over half the emails we receive have little relevance to the work we do – and only add to miscommunications. Recognizing that every email received costs money (not just reading the email but getting taken off task), we need to be conservative on who we cc.
As a consultant who bills by the hour, I am cced on a fraction of the emails vs when I was a staff member. Why? Because I bill the time it takes to read the email – even if it’s just an FYI.
The cc line is a common miscommunications trap as individuals who are cced will either skim over it, respond when it’s not needed or just hit delete.
My advice – be clear on WHY you are ccing people. Put a line in the email with their name(s) and a short note on why they are cced and/or what you want them to do. Ask yourself – do they need to be cced on an entire email thread (as you know the intended recipient will hit reply all) or are you better off sending them a separate summary email (or none at all).
3. Be focused
If you must use emails to map out a project or expectations, try to focus your message on 1-3 points. I’m a big fan of subheads, bullets and bolding key information in emails.
Ask yourself – what are the 1-3 key points I want to convey? Each point should be a subhead with short text and/or bullets underneath.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has received lengthy emails that are all over the map. Then there’s the short 3 sentence email that is wide open for misinterpretation.
If you find yourself writing a lengthy email, pause, and ask yourself if a personal conversation is needed. Often the answer is yes.
When you do have a personal conversation, make sure you’ve jotted down your key points so you can refer to them. This will help ensure you stay focused and don’t get taken off track (or go on a tangent that has nothing to do with what you wanted to talk about).
4. Ask questions
Too often miscommunications are the result of not digger deeper and asking questions. This can be due to time restraints (skimming emails or workload) or ego (not wanting to admit you don’t know).
You need to identify and question the grey areas. These grey areas are the minefields of miscommunications.
5. No assumptions
Finally, don’t assume anything. If you find yourself thinking – I assume they mean this, go back to step 4 and ask more questions.
My friend had assumed the project outcome was X based on previous work she had done for the organization, and her interpretation of emails (that’s right, there were no personal conversations). She assumed the person had seen this previous work (as it was referenced) and understood her proposal.
Looking back, she realized she should have pushed harder to take the conversation off email, and even paused the work until she was able to have a phone or video call. By not doing so, she went in the direction based on her understanding, unaware the client had a completely different end goal in mind.
As we continue to navigate virtual workspaces and online collaboration, I encourage you to think about the common miscommunications challenges you encounter.
How can you be clearer with your communications? Where do you need to ask more questions? And when should you pick up the phone or schedule a video conference so you can walk through a problem together?
Want a handy reminder? Download 10 Rules to Ensure Your Emails Are Read not Deleted tip sheet.