Insults, ‘sexts’ and confidential info – How we miscommunicate in the office

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Inefficient communication is a problem many businesses deal with sometimes. The consequences of certain communication mishaps aren’t just damaging to an employee’s career or a businesses’ reputation, but they can be embarrassing for everyone involved.

To highlight the outcomes of miscommunication in the office, international telecommunications provider TollFree Forwarding has sourced several real-life stories of people sending communications to the wrong person in the office. Alongside this, the Tollfree Forwarding team has also surveyed 1,000 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 workplace, 56% of respondents admitted to sending a communication to someone it wasn’t intended for whilst at work.

They’re common in two significant mediums: emails and texts. Most errors occur on email, as 34% of respondents said they’d sent one to the wrong person. Texts or instant messages 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). The survey shows that men are also more likely to miscommunicate, by 12 percentage points more than women, to be precise.

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. The respondents were asked if they’d ever accidentally sent something that could be damaging for them or the business they work for.

Again, men appear to be in greater danger of committing these miscommunications in the office. Over a third have accidentally sent confidential information and more than a quarter have accidentally sent insulting comments about a colleague to someone at work (like in the example below). This applied to only 15% of the women surveyed.

One in ten were even found to have inadvertently sent sexual content to a colleague it wasn’t intended for. If such miscommunications get sent to a manager, the consequences can be even more serious. 

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.

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.”

The survey participants were also asked 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. 

In the office environment, 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 a good cause, but others do not. So, insulting a manager, for example, could be grounds for termination, if the employer desired.

On the other hand, other business owners have said they wouldn’t expect to see staff dismissed if communications were merely an accident.

How to Improve Office Communication

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 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.

For larger businesses, where communication happens across several departments, changing the primary medium for internal communication from emails to more direct platforms, such as Slack, is a great solution.

Stephen Hart from Card Switcher also suggested The Daily Standup: “It’s a short daily meeting where participants answer three simple questions:

- what did you do yesterday?

- what will you do today? 

- 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 mould 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.”

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