How to avoid misunderstandings in the workplace

Misunderstandings can happen in all walks of life. But in the workplace, poor communication can lead to confusion, reduced productivity and, in the worst case scenario, the loss of key clients or the failure of major projects. As a manager, there are a number of steps you can take to improve communication across your entire team and avoid the problems caused by misunderstandings.

Communicate clearly – stick to the key points

When you are explaining tasks to team members, stick to the main points. Be clear and concise, and avoid confusing the issue by including irrelevant details or wandering off the topic. Be quite clear about what you need and expect – and provide specific dates or times for when tasks should be completed.

Focus on the conversation at hand

Whenever you are engaging with employees, give them your complete attention. It is a lot easier for misunderstandings to occur if you allow yourself to be distracted by phone calls, incoming emails or interruptions from other staff members.

Catch up with individuals after group meetings

If you’ve just held a group meeting to discuss important plans or a new project, don’t simply assume that everyone in attendance understands what they need to do. Take the time to catch up with each member of the project team to confirm that they know what their role is and how they fit into the bigger picture. This investment of your time at an early stage can prevent a costly misunderstanding at a later stage.

Confirm key issues in writing

Aim to provide a written outline of what you expect from your employees – particularly when there are key dates or targets to be met. This give employees further clarification, and a visual reminder of what you expect from them.

Be an active listener

Good communication doesn’t just involve what you say. It also hinges on how well you listen to others in order to absorb information.

No matter how busy you are, whenever an employee comes to you with a query, pay close attention to what they are saying. If necessary, sum up and repeat back to them what you believe are their main issues. This way you can be quite sure you are both addressing the same issues.

Don’t rely on third party information

When information is passed down from person to person, the message can easily become altered and this often leads to misunderstandings. This highlights the value of delivering key messages yourself.

Similarly, encourage your staff to come directly to you if they have a query rather than turning to co-workers, who may not provide an accurate response. Treat any such queries with patience and respect so that your people have the confidence to turn to you if they don’t understand something.

Making the effort to communicate clearly, and taking the time to genuinely listen to your employees, can avoid even minor misunderstandings, which could snowball to have a big impact on the company.

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