Causes of Miscommunication in the Workplace

6 min. read

Effective communication in the workplace increases employee productivity, boosts motivation, and helps co-workers better collaborate with one another

Effective communication in the workplace increases employee productivity, boosts motivation, and helps co-workers better collaborate with one another. When a company suffers from poor communication it can result in frustration, confusion, and hostility.

To avoid this, you need to understand what commonly causes miscommunication and how to prevent it from occurring in your workplace.

What is miscommunication in the workplace?

Poor communication in the workplace generally occurs when there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is heard, or how a message is interpreted. This can happen between an employee and a superior, between colleagues, or across an entire organization.

One example, a manager sends their employee an email asking if they can turn in a set of data on Thursday. The employee confirms that they can meet that deadline. It may seem like everybody is on the same page, however, the employee has assumed they have until end of day on Thursday. When the manager asks for the data at 10 am they become frustrated because it is unavailable and the employee is upset because they thought they were working to schedule.

This mismatch of deadlines stemmed from miscommunication, as the understanding of the deadline was not directly communicated between the manager and the employee.

Why is effective communication so important in the workplace?

Effective communication is an essential tool in achieving productivity and maintaining strong working relationships at all levels of an organization. Good communication in the workplace Effective communication in the workplace increases employee productivity, boosts motivation, and is important because:

· It avoids confusion

· It ensures employees have the information they need to perform well

· It provides purpose

· It eliminates inefficiencies

· It builds a positive, transparent company culture

· It creates accountability

· It boosts employee motivation and morale

What causes miscommunication in the workplace?

Failure to communicate can lead to huge delays in project deadlines, tense business relationships, and lost profits. Being able to adequately understand, avoid, and remedy miscommunications in the workplace can save a business from these issues. Read on to find out what causes poor communication at work:

Ineffective Leadership

Employees look to their superiors for direction and guidance in the workplace. When good communication starts from the top down it can motivate employees to be more productive, collaborative, and innovative. Strong leaders clearly communicate tasks, objectives, and goals, and they provide valuable constructive feedback.

Poor, incompetent leaders are often indecisive and uninspiring. Ineffective communication in leadership may stem from managers being unable to answer questions clearly or delegate skillfully. Their employees are left confused and frustrated and because of this ambiguity, the employees may end up passing contradictory messages to one other.

Inappropriate medium choices

As the requirements for remote work increase and online tools evolve we are now fortunate to have dozens of different communication mediums available to us. Unfortunately, this also means there are many inappropriate medium choices.

For example, trying to resolve a complex problem via a team Slack channel can end up confusing all parties involved, especially if that information needs to be referenced at a later date. This can also occur when email chains grow lengthy, or when a conversation is moved to another platform such as WhatsApp for ease at the time. Information can easily be missed and miscommunications occur.

Create clear policies for when each medium is the best available choice, and play to the strengths of each medium. Setting these guidelines and choosing the right communication channel is crucial to avoid the hassle of miscommunication in the workplace.

Tip: When read aloud, even a simple word like "no" can be construed in numerous ways. Verbal communication is more effective when you need to convey distinct meanings. Written messages are only clear when they are precise.

‍Listening to talk vs active listening

When you are pretending to listen to what another person is saying because you are busy planning your response and waiting for a pause in the conversation so you may speak, this is known as ‘listening to talk.’

Active listening necessitates complete concentration and entails paying great attention to what the other person is saying, and only then interpreting what you've heard. This enables you to comprehend and successfully respond to what the other person is saying.

When a person is talking to you at work, focus on the current discussion. When your co-worker has finished talking, you may want to confirm your understanding by saying, "So, what I hear you say is.." or "From what I'm understanding, you need me to..." This lets you summarize and verify the information you've heard.

Tip: During workplace conversations avoid unnecessary distractions such as checking your phone, texting, looking at your watch, etc.

Ambiguous phrasings

“Did you need those numbers today, or is next week okay?”


This is a simple example of an ambiguous answer. The reply could apply to today, or next week, and does not indicate when would be acceptable.

Obviously, this misunderstanding can be easily cleared up with a follow-up question, but that takes time and if the employee is new and maybe a little intimidated, it could potentially lead to a bigger misunderstanding that has a bigger negative impact.

You can avoid this type of miscommunication in the workplace by consciously providing specific phrases, proactively anticipating how your words may be read, and rephrasing if necessary.

Lack of consideration

Have you ever received a text message from a colleague in the middle of the night? Or a flurry of emails asking for an immediate response when you’re on vacation? These types of communication are inconsiderate and can ruin working relationships.

It is important to encourage empathy and humility throughout your organization, this will lead to more considerate and pleasant exchanges between co-workers and will ultimately reduce miscommunication in the workplace.

Loss of employee motivation

Employees who are demotivated often feel isolated and unrecognized. This can cause an employee to shut down and ignore open lines of contact rather than working productively as part of the team.

Your company culture must promote an open, honest, collaborative work environment to give your employees the best chance at job satisfaction. You should look to implement systems and processes that encourage positive communication between co-workers.

Happy, engaged employees are more likely to communicate efficiently and collaborate more competently.

Miscommunication in the workplace – A conclusion

Improving communication across an entire organization is not an easy task, even when you know the biggest causes of miscommunication. That’s why it is important to strategize and integrate effective communication policies. Create clear guidelines that specifically encourage employees to write, speak, and collaborate in more productive, streamlined ways using the most effective tools.