It happens every week in the workplace. Communication breakdowns happen, whether all parties acknowledge it or not.

But how to prevent communication breakdowns in the workplace to ensure our operation runs more smoothly, improve morale and increase productivity is the question. Especially when it comes to email.

Example of a communication breakdown in the workplace

A classic example of a communication breakdown happened with a client recently.

Here’s what my client sent via email:

“Hey Mary, this is the wrong message.”

And here’s how his superior responded (in an email to her team):

“Hey guys, Joe says our messaging is wrong. Let’s set up a meeting to establish a new strategy and get back on track”.

But what Joe actually meant was… it was literally the wrong message. He wanted Mary to respond with her thoughts on an earlier email, not the one she actually responded to. So, he said, “Hey Mary, this is the wrong message.”

This is a simple example of an everyday occurrence that happens in organizations around the world.

Because we’re busy. And we make a lot of assumptions.

Without the added information of body language or tone of the sender providing clarity, the recipient filled in the gaps with her own story.

This is a common scenario, especially when dealing with email. And in this example, it led to bigger problems within the organization.

So it may leave you wondering how to fix communication breakdowns before they get out of hand.

Clarity in email communication

Studies have shown that the human brain prioritizes what it sees and hears over the words used at a ratio of 9 to 1. That means that when we don’t have those additional pieces of information, clarity in communication becomes even more important. 

According to McKinsey, the average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering email. With so much communication happening on screens, the chances of having a communication breakdown increase exponentially. 

Without the added information of body language and tone of the sender providing clarity, the recipient filled in the gaps with his own story. Leaving him triggered, defensive, and less productive and accommodating than he might have been.

Clarity in our electronic communication is critical. And it’s something we take for granted.  

Here are 6 quiz questions about communicating with email. See if you can answer them correctly to prevent communication breakdowns in the workplace.

1. Email is the best tool for informal business communication that must reach several stakeholders at once

True. Email is informal, efficient, and useful. It’s why it’s become such an important communication method for busy professionals who need to leverage their time, while still communicating effectively.

2. Repeating the subject line in the first sentence of an email is redundant and to be avoided

False. The subject line should be directly connected to what the email is about. It’s important to answer the who, what and why questions as briefly as possible.

3. The word ‘meeting’ is an example of an effective subject line

False. The subject line must provide more information, so the recipient knows more about what the contents of the email will include.

4. Subject lines allow the recipient to prioritize an email’s level of importance

True. If you want to make sure your recipient reads the email, provide CLARITY in the subject line. Put some thought into the subject line, before mindlessly sending off another email.

5. Grammar and spelling are less important in an email than in more formal communications

False. Email can be less formal, but should still follow grammar and spelling rules. This is where things can be misconstrued. Direct messages and texts can be even less formal and not as stringent on the rules.

6. Employers are not required to notify employees of email monitoring 

True. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, employers need only provide a legitimate reason for monitoring employee email communication and are not required to notify employees of monitoring. But it’s a good practice to let employees know that their emails may be monitored for legitimate business reasons anyway. 

It’s too easy for us to quickly shoot back an email response to someone without taking the time to craft a good subject line, re-reading our email for clarity or considering the outcome of the email.

The extra 60 seconds it might take you to do these simple things can completely change how the recipient might read the email.

And, in turn, when we ourselves are potentially reading more into an email than is perhaps there, it’s always worth using another method of clear communication to gain clarity. Pick up the phone or, if possible, speak face to face to prevent communication breakdowns in the workplace.

Want more strategies beyond clarity in communication to improve yourself and your career? Look at how you’re communicating through your online presence. Start with your LinkedIn profile. Click here to grab my free resource Leverage LinkedIn Career Accelerator.

Leverage LinkedIN Career Accelerator

Cynthia Corsetti is an Executive and Career Coach. Whether you’re looking for a career transition or to make a bigger impact in your current career, Cynthia is the partner you’re looking for. Follow her on FacebookLinkedIn, and YouTube.

Credit: Additional information provided by Cengage Learning Chapter 5 Study Guide Communicating Electronically.