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People tend to think they are always communicating effectively, but what they say and what people hear aren't always the same thing. Different communication styles can lead to miscommunication in the workplace. With miscommunication often comes conflict and resentment among employees, so proper communication is key to keeping up employee morale and productivity.
It's human nature to filter what you say and hear through your own personality and experiences. This leads to different communication styles, some of which don't meld well together. For example, a direct and to-the-point person can come across as bossy to a person who prefers small talk before getting to the point. People who consider building relationships essential to workplace communication can drive task-focused people crazy. The different communication styles often lead to miscommunication, but recognizing the styles can help you to solve communication problems.
E-mail is an essential tool in the workplace, but its impersonal nature can lead to miscommunication. Because you can't see the facial expression and body language of the sender or hear her voice, you might misinterpret the e-mail's tone. What the sender means to be agreeable might come across as sarcastic. Multitasking or overly busy employees might skim e-mails instead of reading them through, resulting in e-mail responses that are incomplete or that don't make sense. Setting clear expectations for e-mail communication can help to solve these problems. For example, ask employees to talk face-to-face if you hear that an e-mail tone seems off or if someone says her e-mail questions aren't being answered to her satisfaction.
Assigning tasks in the workplace is a common area of miscommunication. When you tell two people to perform the same task, such as running a financial report, you're likely to get two different versions. Each person filters your instructions through her communication style. A task-oriented person might feel lost with the basic instruction of "run a financial report." She might run several reports covering different fiscal periods, unsure of what information you needed. Another employee might feel empowered to create a report of his choosing since you didn't specify exactly what you wanted. Learning the best way to communicate with different personalities means each person will get the information her way with less miscommunication.
Although true harassment occurs in the workplace and is a serious offense, occasionally it's a case of miscommunication. Your company's harassment policies might not be clearly communicated to employees, or a co-worker might think he's being funny without understanding the scope of harassment. For example, he might think he's flattering a female co-worker by telling her how beautiful she looks, when in fact, she can misinterpret his comments as sexual harassment. This can also happen when employees make jokes that refer to a co-worker's ethnicity. Putting your harassment policies in writing can help to eliminate this type of miscommunication. Developing a clear harassment reporting, mediation and disciplinary policy allows employees a chance to communicate about comments they believe are inappropriate before they get out of hand.
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.