Miscommunication: how to deal with it?

"I can´t see!" Gestures and body language as important ingredients of emotional intelligence.

When I was working in a multicultural company, it was vital to communicate and keep in touch with different offices around the world in a real-time settings. We figured out that using cheap real-time text based programs would be the most efficient way to keep our communication effective. Unfortunately, we did not foresee the problems we would soon encounter because of this decision. 

The use of text based programs as the only option  for communication is dangerous and may lead to miscommunication.  Communication is not about the words and sentences only - it means much more. Cultural background and peculiarities can play crucial role. For example,  in our company many cases of miscommunication simply happened because of cultural differences. In Finland, small talk is usually taken to a minimum  and communicators often say things quite directly while in England this is seen as a sign of disrespect and bad manners. In addition, when communicating in written form only, there is a danger that emotional side of the message can be misinterpreted. When people cannot see each others' facial expressions and gestures they interpret message as based on the words only - and the words may sometimes seriously mislead the whole process of communication. 

In our organization, we have experienced many cases of miscommunication simply because people could not see each other. Having been used text messaging only for some time, we switched for a program that had text, audio and video incorporated .This made our cross-cultural communication much easier and the amount of miscommunication was reduced to a minimum.

According to J. Barling, F. Slater and E. Kevin Kelloway (2000) emotional intelligence has five characteristics. These five characteristics are (1) understanding one´s emotions, (2) knowing how to manage them, (3) emotional self-control, (4) understanding other´s emotions, or empathy and (5) managing relationships. I used the same characteristics to analyze  the cases of miscommunication caused by text-messaging only  in our company. It appeared, that lack of emotional intelligence may lead to misinterpretation of the whole process of communication, emotions and feelings of other people. In the case described miscommunication mostly occurred because:

(1) People did not state  their messages explicitly. As the result, the messages were often understood as rude. This could have been avoided if the communicators saw each other in person.

(2) People did not know how to demonstrate their emotions appropriately in writing because of insufficient language proficiency and wrong  communication style.

(3) The perception of emotions of other people failed because it was too hard to understand emotions of a person coming from a different cultural context without actually seeing him or her and reading his/her conversational "signs".

It should be noted that emotional intelligence of our staff improved greatly after the company had implemented a new communication program that involved video, audio and text messaging. The case meant to demonstrate that effective communication is not about words and text only but also includes emotional intelligence as important ingredient of effective communication.


Barling, J., Slater, F. & Kelloway, E.K. (2000). Transformational leadership and emotional intelligence: An exploratory study. Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 21(3), 157161



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