Despite organizations’ best efforts to provide all employees with communication skills training, miscommunication sometimes still happens at work. When it does, make sure employees know how to recover from the miscommunication — respectfully, tactfully and with accountability. Here are 4 tips to help anyone recover from communication breakdowns.
- Acknowledge that a miscommunication has taken place. When faced with the realization that a miscommunication has occurred, sometimes we have a tendency to want to just “sweep it under the rug” — ignore it in the hopes it will work itself out — or, we may throw a frustration “tantrum”, or decide to badmouth the person with whom we had the miscommunication to another co-worker. None of these are productive responses, though. Instead, go see, call, or email the other person and simply state, “I’m sorry – I think we may have miscommunicated.”
- Admit your part in the miscommunication. Communication problems are almost never a one-way street. Communication skills training will teach you to consider what part you may have played in the miscommunication. Even if you feel like there’s NO WAY you misheard, swallow your pride and say something like, “I thought I heard you say (XYZ), but maybe I misunderstood?” Taking some accountability for your role in the problem will help the other person feel less defensive, and will pave the way for them to “own” their part of the problem, as well.
- Ask for, and provide, greater clarity. So, you’ve established that a miscommunication has occurred, you’ve taken responsibility for it, and now you must try to clear it up. Ask for clarity from the other person to get to the root of the issue. Explain your own impressions of the original communication, and clarify what you said or did at the time. Most importantly, decide how to move forward in a way that avoids similar miscommunications in the future.
- If the miscommunication stems from a diversity-related issue, take these extra steps: assess intent cautiously and demonstrate respect as you address the issue. Sometimes in the workplace, miscommunications happen when someone says something that is interpreted as insensitive or offensive. When this happens, communications skills videos teach us that it’s important NOT to jump to conclusions about that person’s intent. Think about a time when you made an assumption about someone’s attitude or intent and turned out to be wrong (or when someone misjudged your intent).
Address the other person respectfully, in a way that keeps the conversation moving forward, rather than shutting it down. Try to engage the other party about their perspective on what happened. Have the conversation in private, and avoid name-calling, or using labels such as “sexist” or “racist.” Try phrases like, “I know you didn’t realize it, but what you said really bothered me.”
We recommend these two communication skills videos to help employees prevent miscommunications in the first place, and address them once they’ve happened.
Communication Counts examines the day-to-day things people do (or fail to do) that cause costly misunderstandings and mishaps. Tips for preventing them are provided.
Gateways to Inclusion: Turning Tense Moments Into Productive Conversations teaches skills that turn moments of diversity-tension into ” gateways” for increased understanding and improved relationships.