The A-Z of Mediation: Miscommunication

Scott McIver A-Z, Blog

Unfortunately, miscommunications do happen. After all, most people have been in that regrettable situation where something we’ve said has either been misinterpreted or completely misheard. Often, it can be worked out straight away, but, on other occasions, it may spiral out of control and become a long-running dispute. And, as we all know, underlying conflict can severely damage the productivity of a workplace.

So what causes miscommunications?

Forms of communication

Nowadays, miscommunications are becoming a lot more common. In an age where many conversations are held through emails and texts, it is becoming increasingly easy to misinterpret the message of what is being said. Of course, without face-to-face communication, body language is completely taken away, relying only on “emojis” to give any sort of context. As previously outlined in our ‘Gestures’ article, it is said that the majority of all communication is non-verbal – something we simply don’t have access to when communicating through screens.

Poor listening and/or speaking skills

Of course, the reason for the miscommunication may also be down to the people involved. It could be that the receiver may be too distracted or busy, choosing instead to focus on what they’re doing, rather than who is around them. Even if they are “listening”, they may not be concentrating enough, or know how, to pick out the actual message (see last week’s ‘Listening’ article).

Conversely, the speaker may not be the best at delivering that message. They could be short on confidence, either about themselves or what they’re saying, meaning that they don’t communicate with any sort of clarity or conviction. However, effective speaking is a skill too, and it may just be that they haven’t picked up those particular tools yet.

Working environment

On the other hand, miscommunications could come about as a direct result of the type of environment it is. It could just be the fact that the workplace is too loud, making conversation virtually impossible. It could also be a particularly stressful environment where everyone is rushed off their feet. This could lead to situations where a miscommunication has happened but time can’t be found to sit down and sort it out. By leaving it to fester, it will undoubtedly end up becoming much worse.

Fortunately, workplace mediation helps to clear up miscommunications as part of the conflict. It does this by giving each participant uninterrupted time to say their piece, share their side of the story and clarify their aims and positions. This clarification could come from the mediator in the individual meetings (via open questions or reframing), or through the face-to-face joint meetings with other disputants. As a result, both sides can start to establish good quality communication, as well as building empathy for each other’s situations.

However, it’s all well and good resolving one-off cases but, if miscommunications are a persistent problem, it could be symptomatic of a deeper-lying issue in the workplace.

For example, there could be a total lack of communication between individuals and departments. They may not converse much due to their line of work or personalities and, when they do, it could be through electronic mediums. By not having that frequent face-to-face communication or other more suitable channels to communicate, this could be an opportunity for issues to repeatedly arise.

In addition, a workplace may have a particular problem with gossip. If left unchecked, rumours can begin circulating around the office and it could end up with a case of “he says, she says”, ending up with incorrect interpretations and untrue allegations. Gossip can be particularly harmful in how it is interpreted too, with many cases of bullying and harassment initially starting out this way. Many workplaces have begun to crack down on gossip as a result, with the news that Apprentice finalist, Michaela Wain, banning gossip in her office making mainstream media headlines.

Of course, it could just be that none of the workforce have the necessary communication skills for the team to run smoothly. Whether it be speaking or listening skills, this could potentially lead to repeat instances of miscommunication. It will certainly be an issue if management are included in this, making it difficult for them to effectively pass out instructions, receive suggestions or bring the team together.

However, these are all issues that can be addressed and resolved. And, by doing so, it could prevent many cases of miscommunication and potential disputes as a result.

For example, besides our workplace mediation services, we also offer in-house training to improve your team’s ability to communicate effectively. This is why we have developed our one-day Confident Conversations training course, designed to build confidence and competence in addressing challenging or problematic conversations. By looking at specific types of workplace conversations, these skills can then be used to nip situations in the bud, keep up morale, and maintain performance, whilst also reducing the risk of misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Find out more about our in-house training course options
Read all of our previous entries in the ‘A-Z of Mediation‘ archive
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