According to a study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), poor communication is the leading cause of divorce.
Similarly, poor communication in the workplace costs large companies an estimated $62.4 million every year.
Knowing exactly how to solve common communication issues can have a massive impact! Here are 15 ways to do that.
How to Solve Miscommunications With Loved Ones
When you have a miscommunication with a friend, partner, or family member, it’s important to remember that there is care and love underneath the hurt and misunderstanding.
This doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to work through misunderstandings, but knowing you care for one another can help.
Use “you, me, us” problem-solving
People want to feel understood. Especially when there’s a misunderstanding between loved ones, focus on solving it using the “you, me, us” method.
In this method, you start by acknowledging:
- You (what they’ve said)
- Me (express your perspective)
- Us (suggest a way forward for both of you)
Doing this shows the person you’ve understood them—before you get to the fixing part.
“It’s human desire to be understood. And we always feel we’re not understood.”– John Baldessari
Here’s an example of how this could play out:
“It sounds like you are feeling [frustrated, sad, discouraged, upset, flustered…], and you want us to [skip this family gathering, start exercising together, find a new apartment to live in…].
I’m feeling [overwhelmed, insecure, confused…] because [I didn’t know you were unhappy, I love you but have a responsibility towards my family, am financially tight right now…].
Can we try [possible solution]?”
By doing this, you’ve acknowledged how your loved one feels and what they’ve expressed wanting. You’ve also voiced your feelings and why you can’t do exactly what they want. Finally, you suggest a solution that can act as a compromise.
As the conversation continues, you may find this compromise may not be the right fit to solve the heart of the issue. If that’s the case, keep trying to find a solution that works for both parties.
Remember to be respectful when defining the “you” part. If you’re not sure you’ve understood them correctly, you may want to preface it by saying, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I’m hearing you say is that you want….”
This way, you’re not putting words into their mouth
Say, “I love you” in their language
Have you heard of love languages? Love languages are the ways people feel most appreciated and valued.
Some people, for example, feel most loved when you tell them what you appreciate about them (also called words of affirmation). Others feel loved when you cook dinner for them or run the laundry (these would be acts of service).
Do you know what your person’s love language is?
Whether you’re apologizing for something you’ve done wrong or having a challenging conversation with them about how they’ve hurt you, start by reminding them you love them.
Here’s what that could look like for each love language:
- Words of Affirmation: Say something you appreciate about them, whether that’s an aspect of personal growth they’ve been working on or a part of their character. Let them know you see that you see their intention wasn’t to hurt you before talking about the miscommunication.
- Quality Time: Set aside time to spend together. Tell them about a fun day you’ve planned after discussing your miscommunication.
- Gifts: Get their favorite snack from the store to munch on while you talk through your misunderstanding.
- Acts of Service: Is there a project around the house that needs to get done? Or maybe you can tidy up the living room to show you care.
- Physical Touch: During the conversation, try holding the other person’s hand or giving them a hug when the conversation is over.
Be a mirror of emotions
When someone tells you how they’re feeling, reflect them what they’ve said so that they feel confident you’re using active listening.
Try to rephrase so that you don’t say the exact words they’ve just told you.
For example, if your sister tells you she’s feeling overwhelmed, you could respond by saying, “You have so much on your plate right now. It makes sense that you’re feeling overwhelmed. I’ve tried to help you in various ways these past couple of weeks, but I also feel hurt that you are taking your frustration out on me.”
By validating your sister, you’re making it more likely she’ll be willing to listen and apologize for speaking harshly to you.
When mirroring, try to use a few of the same words the person you’re speaking with has just used. This can help show you’re not making assumptions about their feelings but listening attentively.
Pay attention to if the other person uses “overwhelmed,” “stressed,” or “worn out.” Then use the same word when you’re responding and affirming how they feel.
When there’s an elephant in the room, address it
If you’re navigating a miscommunication with a loved one, you most likely both know something is going on. Avoiding it or being passive-aggressive towards one another typically only makes it worse.
In his book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman’s research shows that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. This means they are personality traits or long-standing habits your partner won’t be able to break.
This means learning how to navigate conflict with your partner is necessary and worthwhile. Remember, even when you disagree, you are ultimately on the “same team.”
When addressing conflict, try not to be unnecessarily blunt or insensitive. If the person you’re speaking with gets easily overwhelmed, it may be best to let them have a say in when to have the conversation.
Try sending them a note saying, “I know we’ve been in a rough patch. I’d love to talk about it when you’re ready. How do you feel about chatting tonight? If that’s too soon, could you please let me know what a good time would be for you?”
Make a plan when the waters are calm
You will inevitably have communication issues with the people you’re closest with, whether it’s family, friends, your partner, or a roommate.
Discuss how to best approach challenging conversations as you spend more time with someone.
Use these questions to gain insight into how they navigate conflict:
- Do you prefer getting a “let’s talk” text before I bring an issue up, or would you rather I bring it up when we’re together?
- What have past conflict resolution conversations looked like for you, and what did you like about them? What was hard for you in that situation?
- How did your family handle miscommunications?
- How long do you typically take to be ready to discuss an argument?
People are imperfect. But making a plan ahead of time with a loved one can help you handle miscommunication in a way that is healthy and works well for both parties.
How to Solve Written Communication Issues
Texting and emailing can easily lead to miscommunication. When communicating via writing, you can’t be sure if the other person may have misread your tone.
Use these tips to ensure your writing doesn’t become miscommunication!
Lean towards overexplaining (& use emojis!)
When writing, err on the side of overcommunicating. Facial expressions and tone of voice can contribute to communication—use a few extra words while writing to make up for the absence of those!
Here are some examples of guidelines to help you communicate via text well:
|Don’t use improper emojis.||If you’re texting someone you respect (like a boss or a mentor), wait and see how they use emojis—then mirror them! For example, if they regularly use 1-2 emojis per text, try doing that as well. On the other hand, if they don’t use any, save yours for someone else.|
|Don’t misspell words or use abbreviations when texting in a more professional capacity.“C u L8er” might be OK to send to your best friend, but probably not the way to go when texting a client.||Know your audience. If you’re writing a friend, feel free to use abbreviations. However, for clients or workplace contacts, remember that abbreviations and misspelled words typically come across as “more casual.”|
|Don’t leave the reader to guess how you feel or if you’re upset.||It’s typically best to write short and sweet texts. However, if you’re sending a text you think could easily be misunderstood, use a few extra words to clarify what you mean. Phrases like “I’m not upset, just confused” and “I had a clarifying question from our earlier conversation” can help prevent miscommunication.|
Yes, it’s typically good to keep emails and texts concise. But if you’re worried about how a message might come across, add an extra sentence or two to over-explain yourself.
Pro Tip: Emojis may not always be appropriate in the workplace, but if you’re writing to a friend or family member, try adding a few to show that you’re laughing when you say something silly or are happy.
Notice how the meaning of these texts changes with an emoji:
|What do you mean?||What do you mean? 😂😅|
Where are you writing?
Many communication channels exist—email, video conferencing, messaging platforms, and project management tools. Learn what methods to use for different types of communication.
Using a designated communication channel, divvied up based on the communication need, can make it easier to find and reference back to past messages. It also makes it less likely that you’ll accidentally leave someone out of the loop on a specific project.
If you’re new to a team, they likely already have a system in place. If that’s the case, take a moment to learn how they use their various communication platforms. Take notes to help yourself remember and prioritize communicating via the correct channels.
It may take you an extra moment when you’re first acclimating to the team, but it can save you time down the road when you know where to find the communication you’re looking for.
Here’s an example of what your “note to self” could look like:
- Slack: Use it for team communication and quick “just making sure” type of messages
- Email: Send broader company updates and important messages
- Project management software: Add comments to specific projects and assign tasks to individual team members so you can keep an eye on whose “court” the project is in
- Meetings: Some topics are better handled via a video call or in-person
Having designated channels for different types of communication can make it easier to find information that you’re looking for later.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to be a gamer to use Discord! Consider using a Discord server with family or friends to consolidate all your communication into one app. You can create separate channels to subdivide topics. Here are some ideas:
- # funny-quotes
- # vacation-planning
- # memes
- # fun-looking-events
- # group-photos
- # life-updates
- # how-are-you
- # books
- # movies
- # current-events
Get creative! You can create any channels you want.
How Can I Address Communication Issues With an Employee?
If you’re having communication issues with an employee, remember that it is part of your job as the boss to resolve them. Take the lead in resolving miscommunication. Here are some ways to do that.
Assume a lack of knowledge rather than maliciousness
If an employee has been rude to you or others, has missed deadlines, or has shown other negative behavior, begin by assuming they are unaware rather than intentionally being rude.
They may be navigating cultural differences, struggling with mental health, or being confused. Making negative assumptions before you talk won’t typically help the situation. Instead, assume the best of them.
Here are some examples of what that could look like:
- You’ve consistently come late to meetings. In this office, that can look like not valuing other people’s time. Could you please prioritize being 5 minutes early?
- An aspect of our office culture is that we try to be friendly to one another around the office. Little things like greeting one another in the morning or asking if the person you’re speaking with is available to answer a question show other team members that you see and value them. How would you feel about giving that a try?
- I’ve heard around the office that you’re not happy with some of the decisions I’ve made recently, and that’s OK. I just want to let you know that my door is always open, and I’m interested in hearing team members’ ideas, including yours, if you have any. You’re more than welcome to share your input directly with me in the future.
If you don’t see any efforts to change after you talk to the employee, have another conversation that is a little more direct. If they continue to be rude, you may need to speak to your HR department to see what the “next steps” would be.
If someone behaves maliciously towards you, the boss, they may also be rude to others on the team. This can contribute to a toxic workplace environment.
Set clear expectations
If you’re the boss, set clear expectations within the workplace. By setting clear expectations, you can help minimize miscommunications before they happen. It is also a helpful benchmark to reference when an employee doesn’t follow your expectations.
Clear expectations for your employees could look like this:
- Allowing employees to take off two Friday afternoons a month as long as they meet their deadlines on time
- Responding to all emails within 24 hours
- Letting the project manager know as soon as possible if you are unable to meet a deadline
- Having an office “complaint box” and “gratitude box” so every time you write a complaint down, you also must write something you’re grateful for
- Only using phone calls for urgent matters that need to be attended to right away
Show your employees you appreciate them
If you feel your employees are not being productive or communicating well, find a way to show appreciation! Miscommunication can stem from feeling undervalued, depleted motivation, or even nervousness that you, as the boss, might be upset.
A catered lunch can effectively boost employee morale and show appreciation—and minimize the number of hangry workers.
You can also show employee appreciation in the following ways:
- Having a no-meeting day
- Let employees take a half-day and go home early
- Bringing puppies into the office to help relieve stress
- Remember their work anniversary and let them know you see and appreciate the ways they’ve contributed to the team
- Add some plants to the office decor—researchers found that adding plants to the office increases productivity and lowers stress.
Looking for other ways to tell your employees you value them? Check out our 30 Fun Ways To Make Employees Feel Valued & Appreciated.
Let your employees know that you’re trying your best, but you know that you’re not perfect! Ask them to give you feedback.
At the beginning of your next one-on-one, ask your employee to give you constructive criticism—this type of criticism has concrete action points and is appropriate to the person speaking. Help them understand that this form of communication is one of the best ways to grow and change.
On the other hand, destructive criticism intends to discourage and tear others down.
One way to do this is by asking them to tell you one thing you’re doing well and one way you can improve. This way of offering constructive criticism can feel more balanced and may help more timid employees give you genuine feedback.
This type of feedback can help build a culture at your office that encourages genuine input.
Pro Tip: Model constructive feedback by giving it to your employees first! As challenging as it can be to provide corrective feedback, a study by Harvard Business Review found that 92% of employees believe their performance would improve if given corrective feedback.
The survey collected data from 899 individuals from around the world. One of their surprising findings was that more than half of those surveyed said they would rather receive corrective or negative feedback than praise or recognition.
Work to build a workplace atmosphere where constructive criticism is the norm. This can allow your employees to improve and develop confidence that they are doing a good job.
How Can I Talk To My Boss About Communication Issues?
Talking to your boss about communication issues is important but might be stressful. You may want to navigate this conversation gracefully and help them see that you have good intentions.
State your “why”
Why are you bringing up a concern with your boss? Maybe you feel there’s been a lack of clarity and want to ensure you know what people expect of you. Or, perhaps, you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do.
Whatever the reason, let your boss know that your intention in bringing up the issue is to clear it up so you can do your job well.
Here are some ways you can phrase it:
- “I feel like there have been some issues with the work I’ve been producing recently. Can you give me some tips for how I can improve?”
- “To make sure I understand, are these the new tasks you’re asking me to take on? Can someone show me the ropes on how to do them efficiently and accurately?”
- “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. What is my highest priority to finish by the end of the day?”
Notice how in each of these examples, you’re not placing “blame” on anyone. For example, you’re not saying, “You didn’t train me adequately when I first got hired, and now I’m struggling. What should I do?”—this would be combative and place the blame solely on the other person.
Send a meeting recap email
When you finish a meeting with your colleagues or boss, offer to send a recap email. In this email, outline takeaways or tasks that people are responsible for. This helps clarify (and solidify) who is responsible for what tasks and puts everything in writing.
For larger meetings, there is typically a designated minutes taker. In that case, you can sit back and take notes just for yourself. However, a team meeting or one-on-one with your boss may not have a minute taker.
In these instances, ask if it’s alright to send a recap email with a to-do list. This can help prevent miscommunications and keep everyone clear about their responsibilities.
Get a fresh set of eyes
Before you hit “send” on an email to your boss, read it over again. Improve your ability to proofread by giving yourself time between when you write it and when you send it.
To ensure you’re using correct grammar and spelling, try using Grammarly. This can help you avoid making mistakes such as this one:
If the email doesn’t contain sensitive information, copy and paste it to a friend or family member. Ask them to proofread it for you and let you know if it sounds good.
Pro Tip: If you can’t send it off to someone else, try these tricks to help yourself read it with a clear mind:
- Work on something else for at least 2 hours before re-reading it.
- Read the email on a different device than you wrote it on, like your phone or tablet. This can help you notice typos you haven’t seen before.
- Read it out loud—this can help you hear how the words sound and make adjustments as necessary.
Practice your confident delivery
If you are addressing a miscommunication with your boss, practice what you want to say ahead of time. Think about how you want the conversation to go and what you’d like the outcome of the meeting to be.
For example, do you want some of the workload taken off your plate? Or do you feel you’d like more feedback on how you’re doing at your job?
Practice speaking with confidence. Confident delivery involves both body language and tone of voice.
Here’s what confidence within a challenging conversation looks like:
- Speaking with a clear and steady voice
- Smiling to show friendliness (a smile also affects the tone of your voice and helps you sound more friendly)
- Keeping your arms relaxed and hanging at your side
- Standing with your back straight and your shoulders pulled back
Pro Tip: Studies show that what you wear affects how you carry yourself. Before heading into a challenging conversation, wear an outfit you feel confident in.
Overcoming Communication Issues is a Team Sport
Poor communication can harm your relationships and professional opportunities. Prioritize being a good communicator and working with others to overcome communication challenges.
Here’s how to do that:
- Plan for imperfection: Despite your best efforts to be a good communicator, you will, at times, have communication issues with other people. Plan for those moments before they happen! Ask your loved ones about their communication styles. In the workplace, talk to your boss about how they resolve miscommunications within the team.
- Prevention > resolution: Take extra time to prevent miscommunication where possible! This could mean writing a recap email from a one-on-one meeting or buying your staff lunch to show them how much you appreciate their hard work.
- Show you’re a team player: When working to resolve miscommunications, show that you hear the other person, care about them, and want to find a resolution that benefits everyone. You can do this by reflecting on what you hear them saying, clearly expressing your needs, and seeking a resolution that is good for everyone.
- Be direct and kind: Typically, both parties are aware of poor communication. Work to address it before more communication issues have the chance to build.
If you’re looking for more communication-related tips, read 10 Effective Ways You Can Improve Your Communication Skills.