While the Merriam Webster dictionary defines the term as a “failure to communicate clearly,” the causes of miscommunication can vary significantly:
- Lack of forethought or preparation
- Poor verbal skills or word choice
- Misaligned voice tone
- Poor body language
- Intentional deceit on the part of the sender
- Lack of comprehension, poor listening skills or distraction on the part of the receiver
Experts and behaviorists have also suggested that miscommunication is also the primary contributing factor to conflict, as when unsure about the actual meaning of inbound communication, people tend to fear the worst outcome.
“In miscommunication the mind will fill in missing information with its own creative insight,” said author and conflict resolution consultant Tristan Loo.
Loo goes on to explain that these reactions tend to be fear-based, and that we satisfy our need for answers with that of assumption. Once we lock-into our assumptions the tendency is to believe them as truth, thus resulting in conflict.
The Solutions – Trial Closing & Thought Leadership
In the selling world, a great deal is lost to misunderstanding, predisposition (many decision-makers are predisposed to mistrust sales people), and conflict. While buyers tend to buy from people they like and trust, miscommunication, as noted above, breeds uncertainty, conflict and distrust.
Sales professionals can bridge this gap through the increased use of clarifying or “trial closing” questions, which by design are tests of accurate understanding and receptivity. These simple questions, such as, “How does that sound so far?” can be used effectively during need assessments, business meetings, sales calls and presentations. Unlike “closing” questions which are designed to gain commitments, “trial closing” questions are simply designed to seek opinions.
For managers and leaders, a good way to avoid miscommunication and the “FUD” factor (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that frequently accompanies misunderstandings and misconceptions is to proactively engage in “thought leadership.”
In other words, as a standard component of team meetings, performance reviews, coaching sessions, and all forms of workforce-directed communication, leaders can eliminate miscommunication by consistently making an effort to keep people thinking about and focused on the right things.
This might involve the following steps:
- Anticipate potential areas of misunderstanding, especially when communicating about potentially-delicate issues such as policy changes, compensation, strategic plans, etc.
- Proactively confirm the team’s interpretation and level of buy-in by using the same “trial closing” questions as tests of understanding and receptivity, as noted above
- Regularly reinforce important messages through repetition, providing examples, and positively recognizing the right behaviors