How to Avoid Communication Problems

Bad Communication

Do you ever have a bad communication day? That was my day on Monday. I turned it into a learning opportunity, despite the amount of tears, anger and frustration it caused.

Here’re my take-aways from the day:

Be clear.

Write down action items before you leave a meeting. Recap meetings with a follow-up e-mail stating clearly what you believe to be the next action items. I walked out of a meeting two weeks ago with a clear understanding of what was to happen next. Apparently my clear understanding was wrong. I had a horribly negative experience Monday trying to explain, understand and amend that misunderstanding.

Communicate your expectations of others clearly, in writing if necessary. I learned from a former colleague to preface e-mail subject lines with, “ACTION REQUIRED:” or “ACTION REQUESTED:” This helps people scan their e-mails and know that there is something specific that they must do.

In your personal life, you can apply this as well. If the decision is made to move forward with plan, write it down. In a relationship there is often differing ways to “understand” the next steps and action items in a plan. It may seem too professional or non-romantic to write down your understandings with a friend or lover. But it will improve your lives together immensely.

Acknowledge when you’re wrong.

If you forget to think before you speak, pause to confirm that you don’t mean it. Then retract it.

If you caused confusion, acknowledge and remedy it. Don’t blame someone else’s confusion on them. I worked with a technical trainer in Oklahoma who would often say, “It is clear to me that I’m not communicating this properly. I am so sorry. Let me think about it some and maybe I can come up with a better way to explain it to you.” I so admired that.

If your life or workflow is interrupted by someone’s confusion, don’t blame them. They didn’t act maliciously. It’s likely they were unclear on your expectations.

If you need something, it’s your responsibility to make sure you get it. If you don’t, own that fault.

Acknowledge when you’re wrong, only when you’re wrong.

If you were the confused party, ask for clarification when you see your confusion. But don’t feel guilty if you thought you were clear and realize later that there was a miscommunication.

On Monday, I learned I had been mistaken in what was expected of me. I took the blame and accepted chastisement and condescending remarks. I shouldn’t have. I followed the plan as I understood it. I didn’t know that I didn’t understand the right plan.


Communication is a two-way street. Sometimes there’s a crash on that two-way street, but it’s not the fault of only one person. Clarify in writing all expectations. If you mess up – own your part. And the part you didn’t mess up? That’s the other person’s. Don’t let them give it to you.

What do you think? Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments.

2 Responses to How to Avoid Communication Problems
  1. TRR
    February 16, 2011 | 11:30 am

    Love this post. I used to work in a setting where communication “mishaps” happened all the time. If people would just slow down and take the time to put things in writing and ask for clarification then hurt feelings and halted progress wouldn’t be such an issue.

    I stopped by from SITS and think you’re absolutely hilarious. Smart, too! Just signed up for your newsletter as well. Thanks for the great post and the laughs 😉

    • Idearella
      February 22, 2011 | 5:09 am

      Thanks, TRR!

      Sorry about my slow response – clearly I’m having communication issues these days on the blog… 🙂

      My mom would say, “Why is there never enough time to do the job right, but always enough time to do it over?” That’s the same here. Communicate right out of the gate and you won’t have to go back and fix things.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words!

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