Inefficient communication is a problem that every business has to deal with. Whereas solutions like a 1800 number can reduce miscommunication between you and your customers, any team looking to increase its output should consider improving communication among colleagues a high priority.

 

Neglect it, and if the results aren’t just damaging to an employee’s career or a businesses’ revenue, they can often simply be downright embarrassing for everyone involved.

 

To highlight the outcomes of miscommunication in the office, we’ve sourced a number of real-life stories of people sending communications to the wrong person in the office.

 

Alongside, we surveyed 1,000 US employees to see how often, and under what circumstances, they have miscommunicated at work.

 

Misplaced Emails and Mistaken Messages

Highlighting the problem of miscommunication in the US workplace, 56% of our respondents admitted to sending a communication to someone it wasn’t intended for whilst at work.

 

They’re common in two significant mediums for office communication too. The most errors occur on email, as 34% of respondents said they’d sent one to the wrong person. Texts or instant messages (such as Whatsapp) were also found to be regularly sent to the wrong person at work – more than one in five (22%) said they’d done it at some point during their working life.

 

Sometimes, the consequences can be awkward for employees, particularly if it involves clients who are spending money with a company that needs to maintain professionalism – just like in the examples below.

 


 

 

Men seem more careless than women in their communication in the office. 70% said they’d miscommunicated in some way in the workplace (compared to 49% for women). They are also more likely to miscommunicate:

 

  • Via email – 43% said they’d done it, 12 percentage points higher than women.
  • Via text or instant message – 32% admitted to doing it, again 12 percentage points higher than women.

 

Why Don’t You Go F&?! Yourself? How We Miscommunicate in the Office

The consequences of miscommunicating in the office can vary significantly, depending on the tone and makeup of what has been sent. We asked respondents if they’d ever accidentally sent something that could be damaging for them or the business they work for.

 

Almost a quarter (23%) of office workers said they accidentally sent confidential information to someone who they shouldn’t have. 13% of that was personal information, with the remaining 10% business-related information.

 

Again, men appear to be in greater danger of committing these miscommunications in the office:

 

  • Over a third (35%) have accidentally sent confidential information – just 18% of women said the same thing.
  • More than a quarter (26%) have accidentally sent insulting comments about a colleague to someone at work (like in the example below) – the same figure is just 15% for women.

 

 

 

One in ten were even found to have inadvertently sent sexual content to a colleague it wasn’t intended for. If like in the examples below, these miscommunications are sent to your boss, the situation can become one you’re never likely to live down.

 

 


 

The Consequences of Miscommunication

You may never run into an example as extreme as the ones above, but miscommunication in the office costs every business. A recent study from the Independent Director Council found that companies with over 100,000 employees were losing an average of $62 million per year due to miscommunications.

We asked a number of experts in business across a number of industries what they thought the consequences of bad communication are – and how we can look to minimize them.

 

Stephen Hart, CEO at Card Switcher, highlights how bad communication can quickly snowball into a significant business problem:

 

“Say your customer service team isn’t passing on customer feedback. Well, that’s going to cause problems for your sales, who don’t know how to tweak their approach. And your business development team, who won’t know how to improve the business. And your marketing team, who won’t understand your customer base.

 

“Bad communication has a tendency to cause compound issues and spread to other business areas.”

 

We asked respondents in our survey what they’d expect to happen if they committed a serious miscommunication in the office. 63% said they’d expect to be dismissed if they sent sexual media (such as a photo or video) to a colleague, even if it was an accident. Similarly:

 

  • 55% would expect to be dismissed for unintentionally sending confidential business information to a colleague.
  • 47% would expect to be dismissed for unintentionally sending written sexual content to a colleague.
  • 45% would expect to be dismissed for unintentionally sending confidential personal information to a colleague.

 

Take this scenario into the office environment, and the likelihood of dismissal can vary depending on the specifics of the employment contract. Attorney and Adjunct Law Professor Tom Simeone said:

 

“Many employment contracts state that an employee can only be fired for “good cause.” Some contracts then go on to define good cause, but others do not. So, insulting your boss, for example, would certainly be grounds for termination, if the employer desired.

 

“So, the issue would be whether the insulting email constituted “good cause” as that term is used in the contract. Often, contracts specify that an employee is entitled to a severance if they are terminated without good cause, so there are a lot of litigation cases over whether there was “good cause” to fire someone.

 

From a business owners perspective, Randy Zinn, owner and software architect at Zinn Consulting, said he wouldn’t expect to see staff dismissed if communications were indeed an accident:

 

“Personally, I don’t believe anyone should be “disciplined” for an insulting communication. Insulting your boss is not illegal, just unwise. These things cause hurt feelings, and while that can be addressed by HR, the more formal HR makes this, the worse the situation is likely to become.

 

“In a more professional environment, HR should try to find out why the employee feels the way that they do and if there is any merit to the insulting remarks. It’s an opportunity to investigate performance and miscommunication issues that might negatively be affecting all participants.”

 

How to Improve Office Communication

How do businesses avoid the personal and financial pitfalls of bad communication to create a more productive team? Miscommunications are inevitable, but there are steps companies can take to increase the overall level of communicative efficiency in the organization.

 

It can often be as simple as ensuring everyone is approachable during the working day. Tracey Julien, VP of Marketing at Guided Choice, said:

 

“Many employees feel intimidated and even too embarrassed to ask their manager a question in order to clarify what is being asked of them. This is probably one of the easiest issues to combat and yet it still occurs time and again.

 

“It is best to voice any doubts that may occur, and even if asking a manager is too scary, then ask a colleague.”

 

For larger businesses, who are communicating across several departments, changing your primary medium for communicating could be a good solution:

 

“With other departments being so far away, many companies try to use things such as email to improve their communication. However, when it comes to internal communication within offices, there are much better alternatives such as Slack.” Alex Winston from PPC Protect told us:

 

“Not only is this faster than email, but its also great for finding the right person to talk to, and it makes storing and saving conversations much easier. In addition to that, you can also tell straight away when people are online, busy or out of the office.”

 

Within your team, you could even try something new to see if that stimulates better daily communication. Stephen Hart gave us an example from Card Switcher:

 

“My favorite instant fix for communication in the workplace is called the Daily Standup. It’s a short daily meeting where participants answer three simple questions. One – what did you do yesterday? Two – what will you do today? Three – what impediments or problems do you have?

 

“The communication and productivity benefits are immense. If someone is planning work that will disrupt someone else’s, you learn about it at the start of the day and can mold your day around it. Another huge benefit is that it highlights problems, issues, and impediments so someone can address them before they start causing problems.”

 

Have you ever damaged you or your company’s reputation when miscommunicated at work? Got any tips for improving communication in the workplace? Let us know how it’s going on Twitter @TFFSocial.