Three Simple Steps To Avoid Miscommunication

The ability to communicate effectively is a standard skill expected of pretty much everyone in business, one of those things like “Microsoft Office” that you don’t even mention on your resume anymore because it’s presumed you’ve got it down. The problem is that in reality, many of us have terrible communication skills because we fall into bad habits.

If you’ve been falling short at work, missing the mark on assignments, or getting into tiffs with colleagues, it’s likely due to miscommunication – and to get back on track, you need to take 100% of the responsibility of seeking to understand and making your messages as clear as possible. Here are the basic principles to keep in mind:

#1 Actively listen

This should go without saying, but is extremely hard to do. If you’re speaking with someone, stop everything you are doing and listen to everything they are saying – and what they aren’t saying. Think about their point, what doesn’t make sense to you, or why they might be saying it. None if this high-level cognitive functioning is possible while simultaneously Instagramming, texting your boyfriend, or thinking about how guilty you are for eating white bread during lunch.

#2 Repeat what you heard

Again, a simple rule but extremely effective: once you’ve actively listened for the point, repeat it back to them by saying “What I hear you saying is [insert point]” and gain clarification on questions raised by what they said by asking your follow up questions. I like to make mental checklists of the 5 W’s during important meetings (who, what, where, why and when) and make sure I’ve got the basics down – if not, I follow up.

#3 Take good notes

One of the classic communication errors many people make is trusting their memories. If you want to become a world class communicator, the best tool will be your notebook and the worst your own memory. Take copious notes, and use them regularly. It’s impossible to forget what someone said, or how they answered your question, if you’ve got it documented. When I’m in a conversation where agreements are being made on accountability, I send a follow up message with my notes calling out steps, owners and due dates. This way, everyone has visibility to how you understood the agreements, and responsibility is shared because everyone has a chance to update the agreement if anything was missed or overlooked.

Do you have any tips or best practices for avoiding miscommunication? Please let us know in the comments!


Colleen is a management consultant focused on organization transformations. She moonlights as a freelance writer (you can follow her style writing here and her interior design experiments here). In another life, she would be an interior designer-slash-Bikram yoga instructor.

  • Camille Beygui

    Great post


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