The Hidden Cost of Miscommunication

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Nothing can be as frustrating as trying to communicate something important only to find out that the other person heard something entirely different. Or they heard what you said, but with a different emphasis that changed the meaning of what you were trying to communicate. This kind of miscommunication is more pervasive than most people want to admit, and it can be very costly for business.

Many things contribute to miscommunication

Have you ever heard a colleague or friend of yours say, “I thought we talked about that!” You may vaguely remember talking, but did you communicate? Communication isn’t just a matter of saying something. It takes place only when the other person receives clearly what you have to say.

There are many things that can go wrong on the way to clear communication. First of all, the message itself may not be thought all the way through or clearly articulated. The communication channel for the message may be inappropriate. For example, using a text or an email to deliver sensitive information is guaranteed to leave many issues unaddressed. There may also be language or cultural barriers.

Let’s not forget how important it is to pay attention to timing and choosing the right context. Imagine, for example, being told that you’re being taken off a high level project, in a busy elevator at the end of the day. Or imagine needing to deliver a message that you know the other person does not want to hear and you decide to have the conversation in an open space where there is little privacy. In both of these examples there is a lot of room for miscommunication.

Even if you have done your part to communicate in a clear way, the other person still may not hear what you are saying. People often don’t listen, listen selectively, or are distracted. They will always interpret what is said according to their own personal and cultural filters. So what another person takes, from what you said, may be very different.

Hidden costs

When individual or team communication is fragmented, ambiguous, contradictory or short-circuited in other ways, businesses lose money due to the hidden cost of miscommunication. For example:

  • Time lost due to inefficiency and needless repetitions of a task (re-work).
  • Missed opportunities.
  • Time and energy to repair ineffective communication.
  • Deadlines that slip.
  • Lost or damaged customer relationships and strategic alliances due to unclear or unmet expectations.
  • Loss of productivity, difficulty with employee retention, and lack of discretionary effort due to a reactive or disconnected culture climate.

Verify and Clarify to Reduce Miscommunication

One of the most effective cures for everyday miscommunication is to verify what you heard the other person say. If what was said, doesn’t match what was heard, you can then have a clarifying conversation that gets to you the point where you can verify a mutual understanding.

Reflective listening or paraphrasing is a way to verify that you and the other person have the same understanding. Reflective listening is extremely powerful and quite easy to do. Here are the basic steps:

  1. As the listener, start with: “This is what I heard”, or “Let me see if I heard that correctly”.
  2. Then just reflect back what you heard accurately, without bias or reaction.
  3. Afterward ask “Is that what you meant?” or “Did I hear that correctly?”

With enough awareness, feedback, and practice, so much miscommunication can be prevented. The time, energy, and money that goes into repairing and recovering from miscommunication could then be channeled into getting back to doing creative and life-giving work.

Do you have an example of a costly miscommunication that could have been prevented? Do you have any ideas on what would have need to be done to prevent it?

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Comments

  1. Dear Barbara
    I am very interested in your comments, especially about the hidden costs. Do you have or do you know of any sources that have some quantification of these hidden costs, please?

    Reply

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